Sunday, November 30, 2008

You As The Dewey Decimal System

Sharon Seslija's Dewey Decimal Section:

085 In Italian, Romanian & related languages

Sharon Seslija = 9818549592901 = 981+854+959+290+1 = 3085

000 Computer Science, Information & General Works

Encyclopedias, magazines, journals and books with quotations.

What it says about you:
You are very informative and up to date. You're working on living in the here and now, not the past. You go through a lot of changes. When you make a decision you can be very sure of yourself, maybe even stubborn, but your friends appreciate your honesty and resolve.

Find your Dewey Decimal Section at

Couldn't resist this one. Check out You As The Dewey Decimal System. Just fill out the form and see what comes up. I don't know how this came up , but I do have Romanian roots.

Last Reflections On NCTE

So many sessions, so much to write about! Harvey Daniels and Nancy Steineke talking about 25 years of lit circles and the absolute importance of creating community for the circles to work. Writing and inquiry circles as the next generation of students collaborating to make meaning. Jim Burke, Jeffery Wilhelm and Alan Sitomer presenting effective adolescent literacy instruction. They speak about the new 3Rs: relevance, relationships and rigour as being the foundation. Janet Allen, who uses the following definition of literacy:

"Literacy involves the ability to encode or decode meaning in any of the symbolic forms used in the culture."

and quotes that:

"Learning is not doing; it is reflecting on doing."

Yvette Jackson, who works with underachieving adolescents in New York has a symbolic representation of learning:

L: (U + M) (C1 + C2)

learning: (understanding and motivation) (competence and confidence)

So what does this mean? We need to focus on strengths, building on what our students know and can do and supporting them as they try new learning. Underachievers have the following characteristics: they are resilient, verbal, sociable, tech savy, creative, passionate, energetic, and problem solvers. So as teachers we know our most challenging students have these characteristics and use this information to create engaging, motivating lessons. And we need to expect HIP for them: high intellectual performance by using HOP: high operational practices (critical thinking: evaluating questioning, critiquing, analyzing, judging and synthesizing). One way to do this is through analogies.

Sara Holbrook showing us how to use summary frameworks that lead into poetry. Lee Ann Spillane showing us how to collect survey data using cell phones (can't wait to try this one). And finally, back to Janet Allen who hopes that all teachers embrace lifelong learning. But to remember that the new new literacies are built on the old literacies. She closes with the quote:

" The quality of the education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers."

So everytime we attend a conference, a pd session, a plc or read a professional book/article/journal we remember that these professional learning sessions contribute to the improvement of the education system as a whole and ultimate to the people we serve, our students.

Check out the NCTE Ning for handouts, powerpoint and discussions from the various sessions.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Sessions at NCTE

My first session was called Applying the Reading Strategies to Enhance Writing, presented by Karen Lanning and Carol Harrell of Kennesaw State University. They worked with students from grades 9 to first year university worked with students to gain insight into how reading and writing are intricately connected by having students apply the reading strategies: questioning, connecting, visualizing, predicting, inferring during revision. They presented a series of lessons to students that connected the reading and writing process and ultimately led them to read what they wrote from the stance of a reader. If we can get students to this point and to be constantly aware of their readers then the quality of writing will improve. The students were working on metacognitive skills as well, reflecting on how connecting, questioning, predicting and inferring could help them write better for their readers. Overwhelmingly, students had improved writing but also realized that writing is hard work.

My second session was called Designing Teaching and Writing Assignments for the 21st Century. The first part of the session was about genre theory. In summary what genre theory says is that texts grow out of situations and reflect patterns of instruction, and the roles, relationships and beliefs of the people using the texts. texts are social, rhetorical, dynamic, contextual and ideological. Ok so what does this mean? My understanding is this: that all ways of writing are genres and we need to help students understand the patterns of a particular genre and when that genre is most appropriate. So the OSSLT is a genre that requires a certain way of reading and writing; blogs and wikis are genres; twits (i.e those short 140 word messages in Twitter) are genres as well as all the traditional genres (forms) of writing. Unless we immerse and teach a genre to students, they will revert back to what they know. And the problem in writing is that students have difficulty moving genres of writing out of expected places. One of the ways of teaching students to understand genres in writing is through compare and contrast, i.e. comparing one genre to another. This portion of the session required a lot of concentration and thinking - since it was around 2:45 pm and I had been up since 3:00 am I was beginning to fade. However the second part was very practical and very read/write web oriented. Here's a list of 21st century genres the presented suggested:

* Amazon Book Reviews (or Chapters for us)
* Ad Analysis (why are commercials different from show to show?)
* Facebook/My Space Page for Literary Character (too bad they block these here)
* Chat/Instant Message Transcript (brainstorming activity, discussion, debates on chat)
* eBay Listing (what would a character from a novel sell on eBay?)
* Blogs
* Digital Narrative or Photo Essays ( traditional personal narrative in digital form)
* Infomercials (e.g. write an infomercial for metaphor)
* Wikis (create a class textbook)
* Podcasts (check out Radio Willow Web This is from an elementary school but one of the presenters was sitting beside a university student in a writing class and the student was listening to a podcast about the 6 traits of writing from this site)

Monday, November 24, 2008

NCTE Convention in San Antonio, Texas

My colleague Lisa Bott and I are attending the 90th national convention of the National Council of teachers of English. We flew in on Friday morning and have been attending inspiring sessions about a number of topics. It’s my intension to write a brief summary of the main ideas that were presented at the sessions I attended. Since I have to write a report for the pd committee, the contents of this blog will be my report. Currently, I’m in the hotel lobby at 6:00 am on Sunday. I’m an early riser and have been meaning to get to this blog sooner than this. Last night we spent out time on San Antonio’s Riverwalk. We ate dinner at a river side restaurant after taking a boat ride on the San Antonio River. The night was balmy - not warm as we are in the middle of a cold snap here (cold being around 56 degrees F) and it was quite pleasant. The River walk is filled with people, locals and tourists alike and is quite lively. Today after our last session, we’ll head to the Alamo, another short walk from our hotel. Our days have been spent at the Convention Centre a short walk away – it’s huge, bigger than Toronto’s Convention Centre. The participants are from all over the States and Canada – Lisa spoke to one who was from England.

One of the things that I have noticed, being a Canadian in the midst of mostly American teachers is the overwhelming sense of hope and renewal as a result of Obama’s victory. From what I gather, the No Child Left Behind legislation has wrought low moral, low level, teaching to the test instruction, scripted instruction and loss of creativity and the ability to respond to student needs, lack of differentiation, a shocking lack of respect to learners whose first language is not English and only one pathway for students (college). I know that I will be leaving this conferences knowing that I am lucky to be teaching in Ontario – we are far more advanced in education. The US has a long way to go, but there is a permeating sense of hope and excitement that things will change. Many speakers have spoken about a ‘sense of urgency’ for literacy instruction in the US especially with African-American and Latino children and Kylene Beers spoke about "segregation by educational rigour".

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Reminiscing on Ancient Rome

Found this on my blog travels this morning. Google has created Ancient Rome in 3D. You can actually see what the Forum and Coliseum looked like when they were fully intact. Here's a promo video:

Ancient Rome in 3D includes snippets of information about the various structures that the user can read as she travels through the city. You can:

* Fly into Rome as it looked in 320 A.D.
* Tour the interior of famous buildings.
* Visit the sites in 3D such as the Roman Forum, Colosseum and the Forum of Julius Caesar.
* Learn about how the Romans lived.

And there's a curriculum competition for educators who integrate this new tool into their lessons.

What a great resource for Ancient History for Grade 5 Social Studies, the Grade 11 World History course and English classes who study Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.

And Latin. I took Latin in secondary school (from grade 9 to 11) and part of that course was the study of Roman life, history and great writers. I remember completing a project about life in Rome and I still remember meticulously drawing buildings and clothing as part of the project. It actually was one of my favourite assignments in secondary. I went through an ancient Rome reading kick - I read every historical fiction book that I could find in my school and public libraries (and believe it or not there were quite a few). I remember Miss Stone my grade 9 and 10 Latin teacher - she was a wonderful teacher: young, engaging and she challenged her small group of students to the point where we actually completed 3 years of Latin in 2. And the school system was flexible enough then to allow 3 credits to us. The next year Miss Stone was gone - not enough students took Latin so we had to take grade 12 Latin with Mrs. Closser. Mrs. Closser was ancient and smelled of cigarettes and booze - we were all convinced that she kept a mickey in her desk drawer. We didn't make it easy for her and I feel bad about that now. After losing Miss Stone, Latin didn't quite hold its appeal anymore.

So Latin gradually disappeared from the high school curriculum in Windsor and hasn't been seen since the mid-seventies. There are probably no teachers in our area around anymore to teach it even if there was interest (Latin has a curriculum document in Ontario). I know that I benefited from the study of Latin - it made learning terminology in my anatomy course in university easier because I was familiar with Latin vocabulary.

I wonder what course will be the next to become extinct?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Student Body: Classroom Exercises to Increase Mental Focus

I've been working with new teachers and Daily Physical Activity for the past couple of Teacher Connect sessions (the old NTIP). Browsing some of the videos on Edutopia led me to this one:

I know that I have to move after focusing intently on some task - I'm a kinesthetic learner (as well as a visual learner). We've also been working on differentiated instruction and I'm thinking that for those learners who need to move to concentrate, these 4 exercises might help them do that.
If you try some of these in your class, please tell me how they worked.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Some Recent Tags on

Here are some of my recent tags:

Redefining Rigor: Redefining our Future
This links to Vicki Davis' Cool Cat teacher blog who links to the original article. I didn't immediate link to Tony Wagner's article because I found Davis' summary and analysis to be just as insightful. You can access her comments and the original article from the above link.

Boolify Project

Neat site to help students and teachers with Boolean search strategies. It's interactive and includes some handouts for teachers to use when teaching website evaluation, Boolean search operators and refining search strategies. There are also links to Teacher Tube videos about searching.

Online Literacy is a Lesser Kind
Interesting article about how online reading differs from print reading. The author argues that 'slow' reading counterbalances web skimming". Here's another interesting paragraph from the article:

Another Nielsen test found that teenagers skip through the Web even faster than adults do, but with a lower success rate for completing tasks online (55 percent compared to 66 percent). Nielsen writes: "Teens have a short attention span and want to be stimulated. That's also why they leave sites that are difficult to figure out." For them, the Web isn't a place for reading and study and knowledge. It spells the opposite. "Teenagers don't like to read a lot on the Web. They get enough of that at school."

Hmm... implications?

Reading Between the Lines - and Everywhere Else: Where Literacy is Headed

An article from Kent Williamson, executive director of NCTE. According to a poll taken by NCTE of English language arts teachers:

Nearly two-thirds of the poll respondents indicated that their teaching methods had undergone marked changes reflecting new concepts of literacy. The most important 21st century literacy skills identified by poll respondents focus on decision making, interpretation, and analysis. Specifically, the top three abilities required for student success by poll respondents are:

1. The ability to seek information and make critical judgments about the veracity of sources (rated very important by 95% of poll respondents).

2. The ability to read and interpret many different kinds of texts, both in print and online (94%).

3. The ability to innovate and apply knowledge creatively (91%).


Consistent with this view, the teaching/learning methods most strongly identified with building 21st century literacies were

1) learning through cross-disciplinary projects/project-based learning,

2) inquiry-based learning, and

3) incorporating student choices as a significant part of instruction.

Here's further support for a strong school library program, a consistent research process and collaboration between classroom teachers and teacher librarians.