A Place for Wonder

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Today is Wednesday which means it’s Wonder Wednesday in our classroom.  It’s sort of a catchy phrase stemming from our obsession with Wonderopolis and the fact that I wanted to make some space for open inquiry in my classroom.  I hope to model and guide students to wonder everyday of the week, not just on Wednesdays!  But sometimes we have to set aside some dedicated time to reflect on wonder journals, examine the class board of open wonders, read about new topics to wonder about, and ultimately seek some answers to those wonders.

Kids want to know, they are curious, it’s just a part of their very fabric.  I see the early shades of this in my almost two-year old.  How does this work?  How many times can I slap mom in the face before she gets mad?  If I mash my hand in this hummus repeatedly what will happen? You get the idea.  But making space for wonder is more than just hippie dippie stuff.  It’s straight up logic.  Kids who are curious and want to learn do better at learning.

So Wonder Wednesday is really about reminding our students and ourselves to stop and wonder.  In a busy weekly schedule where it often seems like we run from one subject to the next we have to take careful and measured steps towards weaving curiosity and passion into classrooms in a way that excites and honors kids.

Wondering can happen in so many ways.  Why not try one of these ideas to make a space for wonder in your classroom?

Creating a Space 

  • Have a stale bulletin board or wall space?  revamp it into your wonder wall.  Let kids fill it with questions that you can revisit when you have a few spare moments and practice your research skills.
  • No space?  Create a digital wall using Padlet like this one.

Inspiring Wonder

  • Check out Wonderopolis for articles paired with videos on a variety of neat topics.
  • View a wonder worthy video like this one at The Kid Should See This.  Just don’t blame us when on of your students “wonders” what would happen if they did this on the East stairwell at school, ok?

  • Take some time to wonder about something you are already doing in class.  Stop and reflect on a class read aloud, infuse student questions in Science and Social Studies and use them to guide what students learn for the rest of the week, revisit a previous text you read together to go back and wonder and then research.

Connect

  • Use your class Twitter account to tweet out wonders to the world and respond to wonders shared on #wonderchat or #wonderwednesday
  • Wonder with another classroom either in your school or not!  You can join our wondering here.

Wonder is a natural state of wanting to know.  We have the desire to learn something and then we go out and do it.  Any way in which you can model that process for students and make space for it in your day is a step in the right direction!  Wonder on Wednesday, wonder on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Cookieday too.  Start here, start now.

For more information check out the storify or resource archive from last week’s #wonderchat that lists both professional books to learn more about inquiry and wonder and childrens’ books to inspire wonder. Thanks @JoEllenMcCarthy for hosting that chat!

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It’s #5bookfriday! Won’t you join us?

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I recently wrote about ways to get students connected using Social Media, and one of those ways is to join #5bookfriday.  You don’t even have to be on Twitter to do this with your students, but it sure helps to have that connection and see what books are in students’ #5bookfriday bags.

What: 5 Book Friday, hashtag #5bookfriday

A book talk of five books that you are going to “sell” to your readers.

Why: I started this because I was having trouble making sure to get to a book talk everyday in addition to the teaching, coaching, observing, preparing, book conferences, and more.

How: Get a bag, any bag, fun and or silly works great.  Stash five books that you want to sell to your students.  Think about specific readers as you do so.  Who has been looking lost lately?  Who has been spending too much time searching for a book?  Who needs a just right book?  Who needs a challenge?  You might group them by author or genre. One week I even did all similar covers.  It might be five new books you just purchased or five classics.  It’s up to you.

Have students bring their reading interest lists to the carpet so they can jot down titles and authors.  You may also need to have a few waiting lists ready for very popular titles.

Then dramatically sell each book!

When you’re done snap a quick picture before the stampede and fighting begins.

If you have Twitter send out a picture of you five books using the hashtag #5bookfriday.

My students LOVE this little tradition now.  (To be honest they thought I was crazy the first time since I have a little jingle I sing, but they sing with me now.)  Your enthusiasm will be their enthusiasm!

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Creating and Composing in a Digital Writing Workshop

This post originally appeared on our blog Inquiry Live in the Classroom on November 5th, 2014.  We felt that the content and ideas were consistent with the message of our new blog and that it was important enough to repost.

Note: This post, co-authored by Troy Hicks and Kristin Ziemke, has been prepared in response to Nancie Atwell’s blog post about the role of technology in her classroom.


In her recent blog post Nancie Atwell opens up about the role of technology in her classroom. As a leader in our field of teaching writing, Nancie, suggested that:

I do think classrooms in grades four or five and up should have computers, so kids can experience and experiment with word processing, but I have concerns about them in the younger grades. In fact, I think the trend of iPads in the primary classroom is a mistake.

We’re grateful to Nancie for starting this conversation as districts across the country purchase more and more mobile devices without thinking about the pedagogical practices that must go hand-in-hand, if not lead, how we think about using these new tools. This dialogue is necessary and overdue. Nancie is one of the literacy leaders who has guided our thinking about student writing, the reading and writing workshop approach, and how best to frame our own thinking about the teaching of writing, both of us appreciate and admire Nancie’s work. We respect her opinions about what works in reading and writing classrooms.

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One of Kristin’s students composing both print and digital writing.

We agree with Nancie that many schools are using technology poorly; instead of embracing redefinition as Dr. Puentedura has advocated for, teachers are often misguided and use digital devices for sight word practice, prompted responses and (sadly) weekly assessment and test prep. We recognize that there are poor models of classroom technology out there. We also respect and acknowledge how Nancie employs technology at her school.

However, in this case, we humbly suggest that her opinion on students writing with technology is limited, and we feel compelled to offer a different vision of how students can become digital readers and writers.

First, in the upper grades, we feel that her insistence on computers for word processing is too limiting. Let’s unpack this assumption just a bit. First, though it can feel like our students have their noses stuck in screens for far too long throughout the day, technology is not the enemy here. In fact, word processing is just the beginning of what technology offers to writers. According to leading researchers in the field of K-12 writing instruction, Jill Barshay reports that:

In 83 percent of 30 studies on the use of word processing software, students’ writing quality improved when they wrote their papers on a computer instead of writing by hand. The impact was largest for middle school students, but younger students benefited, too. The theory is that students feel more free to edit their sentences because it’s so easy to delete, add and move text on a computer. The more editing, the better the final essay.

Steve Graham and Delores Perin shared these results in the 2007 Writing Next report, and — sadly — in many K-12 classrooms we still don’t see technology being used for revision and editing in this proven manner. Yet, word processing is just the beginning of what students can, and should, do with computers.

Students with Laptop
Kristin’s students compose using a laptop.

Second, as we dig a bit deeper into Nancie’s claim about using computers only for word processing, we know that there is more to consider. Indeed, we know from our own research, teaching, and professional writing that computers — as well as tablets and smart phones — provide students with countless opportunities for reading and writing. And, when we say “reading” and “writing,” we are talking about both traditional alphabetical texts (books, articles, essays, poems) as well as digital texts including blogs, ebooks, and hypertexts. Our professional organizations — such as NCTE, IRA, and NWP — have been calling for a broadened view of digital literacy for well over a decade. We would hope that Nancie would consider doing so, too.

Now, to unpack the second part of her concern: that “the trend of iPads in the primary classroom is a mistake.” While Troy does not have the benefit of being in the classroom everyday with younger students, Kristin does. And, from this experience, she would argue that the primary grades are exactly where kids SHOULD be using technology as it transforms their ability to create, share their ideas and connect with an authentic audience beyond the classroom. In fact, it is essential.

Let us explain a bit more.

In the early childhood years, many students are challenged by the physicality it takes to produce a piece of writing. Ideas are often generated and lost before a young writer can transmit them to the paper. In today’s digital writing workshop, students can scaffold their own development by recording a video snapshot of the story they want to tell. Once the ideas are captured on video, the child can transfer the story to paper while going back to rewatch the video as many times as needed in order to remember and include all the parts of the story. Video recording tools allow us to meet the writer where he is and nudge him to become a more proficient writer and idea generator.

Using digital publishing tools like the Book Creator App or Little Bird Tales, we find new ways to celebrate active literacy in the classroom as students can draw, write, speak, listen, view and read all within a piece they create. The ease of which a child can add audio to their own book signals to the learner that each child has a story to tell and is the owner of that story. Embedded audio provides a window into the thinking and gives us a picture of what a child knows and is able to do, not merely what their fine motor abilities allow them to produce on paper.

Screenshot of Kristin's class interacting with author Seymour Simon
Screenshot of Kristin’s class interacting on Twitter with author Seymour Simon

Most importantly, technology expands our youngest learners audience as students publish their writing online. Enhanced eBooks, student blogs and classroom Twitter accounts invite primary age students to move beyond the writing wall in the classroom and into a writing world. Feedback from their families, blogging buddies and experts in the field inspires them to write even more. Students view themselves as important contributors to the global writing community and move beyond learning about writing to living life as a writer.

And of course, we provide balance and choice in all we do. We explicitly teach kids that tablets and laptops are tools that writer’s use, just like paper and pencils. We want kids to be intentional about how they choose the tool and think about how the tool enables them to revise, alter the layout and share the writing.

Moreover, these observations extend beyond the early grades. We can point to numerous examples where teachers in upper elementary, middle school, and high school are using digital reading and writing to support their students’ literacy development. As a point of reference for upper el and middle school, we would suggest that Nancie look at some really innovative educators who teach writing with technology such as Kevin Hodgson, Jeremy Hyler and Katharine Hale.

Finally, we suggest that the concerns Atwell suggests are less about her students’ abilities — as well as the capabilities of the devices — and more about her stance as a teacher. Certainly, we want students to feel positive about their reading and writing experiences: reaching fluency with the written word, providing opportunities to talk about books with one another, holding a well-worn novel or favorite pen in our hands. These are tactile, valuable experiences. As she notes, there are social reasons embedded in writing and reading that make these practices both pedagogically useful as they humanize our classrooms.

In this blog post, one of Kristin's students shares her "wonders" as a part of an inquiry project.
In this blog post, one of Kristin’s students shares her “wonders” as a part of an inquiry project.

However, if as teachers we discount the opportunities that crafting digital writing and engaging in digital reading can offer students, then we are doing our students more than a disservice. We are failing to prepare them for academic, workplace, and real life opportunities to engage in literacy practices. This is not about our personal preferences for or against technology. It is about the ways that we teach students to become literate.

We are grateful to Nancie as a thought leader and for her decades of work, as well as for her blog post in which she invites us all to reflect on the role of technology in our classrooms. However, we disagree with her stance that word processing is the only way to use technology in the writing workshop and encourage Nancie and others to rethink how we engage students as writers. We strongly believe the trend of iPads (or any tech) in elementary (or middle or high school classrooms) is, indeed, not a mistake, but a necessity.

Student Response on Twitter
Student Response on Twitter

Photos provided by Kristin Ziemke.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Inquiry Across the Ocean

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My fifth grade students have been growing connections with other fifth grade classrooms through Twitter.  One of our friend classes is @5bfish, a group of students based in Hawaii.  It was through their tweets that we discovered that there was an active lava flow threatening the village of Pahoa.  As you can imagine this is a rather foreign concept to my Chicago kids, many of who have never even see a farm let alone an active volcano.  As we began to follow their tweets and explore some of the news links that they sent us my students became more and more interested in what was going on.  We began to view media clips and images of the active flow, do research on the volcano itself, learn about the Goddess Pele and how the cultural traditions of the Hawaiians were impacting the response to the lava flow.  To tell you the truth it took on a life of its own.

I began searching out supplemental resources and sharing them via Edmodo.  Then students began doing their own research and sharing videos, link, and images with each other via our Edmodo group.

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When we sat down to discuss what we wanted to do with this information students grasped onto the idea of creating their own news casts so that we could raise awareness of the issue.  Then, we decided why no involve our Hawaii friends and ask them to join us as a sister news station in Hawaii.  So we collaborated via Google docs on some questions to send them and they sent recordings back!

My students are so energized and knowledgeable about this topic now, they are having a blast, and they are learning so many skills!  During this inquiry they have;

  • Read at least 15 different articles, websites, and books on the topic.
  • Viewed at least 6 different videos including interviews.
  • Examined a live volcanic rock set.
  • Tweeted questions to our 5BFish and other Hawaii sources and received responses.
  • Analyzed visual images.
  • Practiced notetaking and synthesizing skills.
  • Worked together to write a script including the most important parts of the topic.
  • Collaborated on filming and editing.
  • Practiced fluent reading from the vidoprompt app of their script.
  • Improved their public speaking skills by speaking loudly and clearly for the recording.
  • Collaborated on Google Drive to cowrite thoughtful follow up questions.

We are in the editing and revising process now, examining video from our Hawaii friends and working on editing the footage that we took in front of the Green screen.  I can’t wait until their newscasts are finished!  What a fun and friendly inquiry this has been so far.

What I love about this is that its homegrown, from the students, and following their passions.  It’s helping them raise their cultural awareness as we explore how culture and science sometimes collide.  Best of all, it’s helping them build global connections and meaningful learning partnerships with students halfway across the world.

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Getting Kids Into Global Blogging Communities

In the spirit of refreshing my own blog I’ve been thinking a lot about how I can help my students continue to find stamina and excitement for their blogging lives.  One of the things that keeps me blogging is connection with community.  When you feel the presence of your audience, or you are able to connect with others it gives you a sense of purpose in your work.  It’s not just about sitting in front of a screen and spouting off whatever ideas come into our heads, it’s about connecting to the hearts and minds of our readers.  It’s about inspiration.

I want my students to feel inspired by their blogs.  I wasn’t feeling that inspiration these last few weeks.  I was feeling like our classroom blogging had become stale, and in my zest to help them improve the quality of their writing I had put to much of myself into their writing.  This is why I not only redesigned our class blogging home, but I also decided to connect them to some of the global blogging communities out there so that they can feel the presence of their peers from around the globe.

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We started our first experiment last week by posting “It’s Monday What Are You Reading” posts.  Students read a few examples before getting started.  It worked well since it was Thanksgiving week, a very short week, and the format of the post was much shorter than what we had been previously doing.  Although there was less writing, students put some nice thought into their last several book choices and I used this as a jumping off point in my conversations about book choice with students.

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This week we dipped our toe into the Nerdy Book Club.  This start was a little more intensive as we needed to first read many posts on their blog to get a sense of what types of posts would fit, and we spent a good deal of time talking about the Nerdy Book Club community, who started it and why, and why it was important.  Students first posts were a bit tentative but they were excited by the freedom and choice that came with it!  As their teacher I was happy to see their zest but frustrated to see the amount and quality of writing decrease.  That will be something that we discuss together this week as we go back and revise posts, and it will be something that I will look carefully at to see where I can help students find the stamina to write long and strong.

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We also jumped into a less formal community that I’m calling Wonder Wednesday.  This is based on the Wonderopolis Website and the fact that it sounds really swell.  There isn’t really a blogging community per se but there is lots of great wondering going on on the Wonderopolis site in the comments section and on Twitter using the hashtag #wonderwednesday so I sort of launched a Guerilla style round up today to see what would happen.  Students read about wonders, left comments on my post, and added to our wonder wall.  In future weeks we’ll be taking wonders and doing some mini-inquiry to see if we can find answers!  So I’m anticipating some more authentic blogging opportunities there.  We also contacted a bunch of other fifth grade classes on Twitter and even got them to join us!

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Some upcoming communities we will participate in are the Slice of Life challenge in March, although I’m thinking of getting them started a bit earlier on this with some Tuesday Slice of Life writing sessions.  We will also be popping into Poetry Friday and Chalk-a-Bration at some point, but for now we’re just taking it a little bit at time.  I’m feeling pretty inspired and so are my students so I’d say overall we’re accomplishing our goal.

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Innovate Ignite Inspire: The Story of a Beginning

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This blog started a few years ago or at least the seed for the idea of it did.  You see when Kristin and I published our first book someone invited us to an author signing.  As in, we were supposed to sign the books.  “What will we write!?” we thought to ourselves.  Authors always seem to have some thoughtful and meaningful phrase that they put in our books, a small tidbit for us to take away and savor.  I mean what are you supposed to write?  “Thanks for buying my book, I hope you don’t hate it.”

I don’t know precisely where the phrase came from.  Maybe it was on a Google Hangout or on a road trip across Wisconsin.  In all likelihood it was on the leather sofa in the back of “our” coffee house fueled by bacon smoke and too much coffee.  But these words constantly resurfaced in discussions, writing, and our work.

Innovate: Do innovative stuff in the classroom!  With technology or without.  To innovate means to do something in a new way.  Innovation drives creativity and passion and lights the spark of dedication in our students.

Ignite: Speaking of that spark let’s ignite some excitement and innovation around us.  Connect with others and let them ignite new ideas and drive within you then turn around and ignite the fire of ideas in others.

Inspire: Inspire those around you to try new things, learn, hone their craft.  Inspire your students to wonder, read, problem solve, reflect.  Be inspired by people, places, ideas, and things.

With this blog we hope to share innovations, ignite learning, and inspire you to do the same.  Thanks for joining us on this journey.  Please feel free to comment, link up to your own innovative posts, or tweet about the awesome work you are doing in your classes using the hashtag #innovateigniteinspire.

 

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