Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Right Place at the Right Time

Bam! I can't believe that awesome idea! I'll save it/tweak it/ use it tomorrow.

It's amazing how often that happens when I am scrolling through my Twitter feed or participating in a Twitter chat. I'm constantly wowed by my "luck" as I strike gold when I find the perfect idea to teach whatever it is I'm teaching now or next. It often seems like I was in the right place at the right time. Many ideas appear to be targeted at me and my students. 

I find myself wondering what would have happened if I didn't check my feed today or didn't join in this chat. I ponder all the great ideas that were likely missed because I wasn't connected at that time.

However, those of us who are engaged in Twitter (ok...obsessed), believe that no matter when we log on, there are phenomenal educators on the other side of those tweets. Any time of the day, I am likely find an idea or activity that resonates with me. In addition, someone is usually tweeting just the perfect thought I need to hear at that time if I am open to listen.

Any time on Twitter is the right time, and Twitter is definitely the right place. I wonder what will speak to me and my students today?

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Just Say Yes!

I tried something new this year...saying yes.

  • Yes to starting a class Twitter account.
  • Yes to hosting Twitter chats.
  • Yes to accessing authors and educator heroes for Skype visits.
  • Yes to purposefully reaching out to a fabulous and inspiring PLN of 3rd-5th grade educators.
  • Yes to starting a student-to-student Twitter chat with this PLN.
  • Yes to attending my first edcamp (and soon, my second).
  • Yes to joining an Alabama PLN educator's new student Twitter chat (on the first day of school), focused on digital citizenship.
  • Yes to collaborating with a 7th grade #sstlap educator from Missouri through a TodaysMeet back channel, discussing the Bill of Rights on Constitution Day.
  • Yes to jumping on Voxer, joining a few groups and contributing/learning in a new way.
  • Yes to starting my year off sharing talents through play doh, flying around the room like an airplane, and wearing an eye patch to inspire my student pirates.
  • Yes to a class mantra of "You Matter" and "We are geniuses."
  • Yes to participating in our first (of many) Mystery Skypes.
  • Yes to making my first iMovie and Animoto videos with my students.
  • Yes to using Biblionasium with my reading groups to create a motivating online book club.
  • Yes to trying online eportfolios, with the help of another Twitter PLN member.

This year, I am trying anything and everything that will make a difference for my students, related to risk-taking, global connections, and their self-worth.

By saying yes, I am repeatedly pushed out of my comfort zone. There is no safety net when venturing into uncharted territory as an educator.

-I benefit by discovering the expanses of my skills and  creativity as an educator.
-My students' families benefit from increased communication  and children who have more enthusiasm for learning and  more passion for school.
-My students benefit from teacher & peer appreciation for  their talents/geniuses and participation in a classroom  beyond our four walls.

Recently, I said yes to:

  • an Oreo project, culminating in a Skype stacking challenge with a class in Alabama.
  • a collaborative online descriptive art/writing project with another class outside my state.
  • more Mystery Skypes in the next few months.
  • creating an Amazing Race literature idea via Craig Kemp after reading his blog post mentioned in the #whatisschool chat.
Who knows...I just may say yes to something new tomorrow (and the next day).

Can I say that every one of these adventures has gone off without a hitch? Of course not. However, in the words of my teacher/author friend, I have dared greatly. 

Do. Or do not. There is no try.

For my students, I will continue saying yes. The true measure of my impact on them will be when they start saying yes, too.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Edcamp or Bust!

Edcamp or Bust!

Once you attend an edcamp, you'll never get the same feeling of inspiration from regular PD. Even though most districts haven't jumped on this train, there are a few ways you can put on the conductor's hat and direct it yourself.

This year, I am starting small...with my 5th grade colleagues. As team leader, I decided to try and run our team meetings in edcamp fashion. As long as we do not have an assigned agenda (data team), this is my plan.

Before the meeting:
I'll remind my team to think of what they need/want to discuss. Also, I will ask them to bring an idea to share with the team related to a topic (for example, an engagement strategy).

I'll send out the short agenda of "must discuss" items.

During the meeting:
For the first 15 minutes, we'll tackle those "must discuss" items, and then set them aside.

Then, it's edcamp time!

We'll excitedly share out the ideas and possible topics we want to discuss related to teaching craft, reaching specific students, or specific curriculum/tech strategies.

Collectively, we'll decide on the agenda and a timeframe for each item.

For the next 30 minutes, we'll enjoy sharing and learning from each other.

For the final 10 minutes, we will each share the idea we brought related to our topic (example was an engagement strategy).

That's a wrap!

What I loved about edcamp was the ability to learn and share what I needed and what was relevant to me that day. I loved learning new ideas and sometimes problem-solving an issue with others in similar situations. I loved that teachers could be both givers and receivers of learning, even in the same session. I loved that I was not expected to "sit and get" from a menu that may or may not fit my diet.

Although not exactly an edcamp, structuring team meetings this way is my contribution to the larger picture of teacher-led PD. Right now, I've grabbed my own conductor hat. I hope to pick up steam and ride this momentum toward a more collaborative, happy and productive year with my fabulous colleagues!

I'm positive that it will be a change for the better! The most effective leaders lead their team by working alongside them.

Monday, August 4, 2014

More Than Just a Mud Run

Yesterday, I embarked on a new adventure when I attempted my first run of any kind.
A mud run.

The Dirty Girl Mud Run.

Yes, I jumped in mud, ran in mud, crawled in mud, and fell into mud. Many times during this muddy romp, I asked myself what I was doing. (My husband had asked this same question many times in the two months since I registered.)

I was completely out of my comfort zone.

And having a blast!

Here's what I learned:

·         I don't step out of my comfort zone as often as I should.

·         Laughing at myself through struggles makes them easier to handle.

·         It feels liberating to try something you never thought you could.

·         Risks and new experiences are more enjoyable with friends.

·         Completing a challenging task is an incredible feeling, and can be addicting.

·         I would actually sign up for another run (maybe even next year's Dirty Girl).


These self-realizations mirror the type of classroom environment I want for my students.

Every day should present an opportunity for my students to step out of their comfort zones and try something new. As often as possible, my students and I need to laugh at the humorous moments along our learning path, especially at our failures. We all need to appreciate and celebrate our efforts, and not just the perfect final product.  I want my classroom community to support each other, despite different opinions or experiences. Everyone has something to learn from each other, including me learning from them. My students need to believe that trying again and again is worth it. Learning from failed attempts has merit.  In addition, once they have reached one goal, I want my students to feel the desire to tackle another one.

Yesterday, it was just a mud run to many at the event.

However, to me it was a realization that I am a better person and teacher when I step outside my normal.

When I take risks and push through.

When I fall down in the mud and when I surprise myself (and family) by scaling the wall or running up the obstacle instead of climbing.

When I feel proud of the mud covering my body as proof of my accomplishment.

When I am excited to feel that way again.

My students don't know it yet, but they'll be doing many mud runs with me this year.

Prepare to get dirty!
I am joining other bloggers in a Motivational Monday Linky Party. Click this link to read the other incredible blog posts!


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Give Me a Steep Hill!

Although many friends and members of my PLN are runners, I'm more of a bike enthusiast. As long as the Minnesota weather cooperates, I enjoy going for long bike rides on the numerous trails around my neighborhood. Whether I'm with my kids, husband, or just by myself, biking is my preferred outdoor activity.

Yesterday, while on one of those exhilarating solo bike rides, I was pedaling up a long steep hill. Just when I had to stand up to give myself more momentum (and felt maybe I wouldn't make it), I finally reached the top. Now, those of you who bike know the sheer joy of cruising down a hill, wind in your hair, almost feeling like you're flying.

I got to thinking how much these hills relate to my work as a teacher. Whereas flat terrain is like using the teacher's guide (TE), hills are like taking risks and trying new ideas. Flat terrain is teaching the way you've always taught, with a fixed mindset, remaining in your comfort zone.

With a growth mindset, the climbs are much more exciting than flat terrain because they lead to the thrilling cruise down the hill.

Are they difficult? Are they challenging? Are they often lonely?  Yes!

They are never boring, that's for sure. In addition, the momentum they generate for future learning and success can't be quantified.

In the past two years, biking uphill for me included:
  • diving into Twitter and building my PLN, despite a lack of Twitter presence among my school colleagues
  • joining the Global Read Aloud (GRA) when nobody else in my building was involved
  • celebrating International Dot Day for the past two years with only my teaching partner and our students
  • trying out something new to my teaching partner and I, called Genius Hour, and learning as the year went on
  • teaching Kelly Gallagher's Reading Reasons and Six Real-World Writing Purposes with passion and enthusiasm
  • jumping on the TLAP ship and transforming my classroom practices to include hooks and tons of engagement (the only pirate in my building)
  • trying my first (and my building's second) author Skype with Dave Burgess, then following it up with a Skype with author David E. Kelly
  • incorporating Erik Palmer's PVLEGS Speaking and Listening framework (which wasn't part of the curriculum)
  • engaging in weekly Socratic Seminars (with TodaysMeet back channel), the highlight of my week, with only one colleague who realized the benefits for students
Next year, hopefully my hill will get steeper thanks to: more author Skypes, a class Twitter account, Mystery Skype, broadening our GRA involvement through Edmodo and Skype, student online portfolios, and whatever I discover along the way from my fabulous PLN.

Just like a biker builds muscle, teaching with a growth mindset builds confidence. Each hill becomes easier to climb. We look for steeper hills to push ourselves and our students outside their comfort zones and stimulate learning.

Although flat terrain is easier, I'll take another hill any day!

Friday, July 18, 2014

El Deafo and Me

For 20 years, I taught my students as a hearing impaired teacher. No hearing aid, just 80% loss in one ear due to a tragic incident when I was just 22. At the time of the loss (1994), doctors said there was nothing they could do to return the hearing or correct it. They stated that a hearing aid would only amplify the muffled sound in my bad ear. I went back to the audiologist a few times in subsequent years, only to hear the same diagnosis.

Daily life became a bit different. It was difficult to hear in loud situations (or with loud conversation, such as in restaurants). I started tilting my head so that my "good ear" was facing the speaker. Family and friends sat on my "good side" when out in public places.

Since I didn't have total loss, I managed to compensate fairly effectively. I got used to not quite hearing everything people said. I'd repeat what I THOUGHT was said, and check for clarification when it didn't make sense. My inability to hear more than 87% of what was spoken (since my "good ear" compensated for what my "bad ear" couldn't pick up) became my new normal. I was missing so much of the world around me.

Luckily for me, last year I started having wax buildup in my good ear. There were a few scary days when the wax prevented me from hearing at all. I was afraid that would become a permanent situation. After having my ear flushed twice (an uncomfortable, but not painful, experience), I decided to check back with the audiologist to see what he could do. It was 2013 after all, and I was hoping that maybe something would work now.


I was definitely a candidate for a hearing aid. Unlike the main character, Cece, in Cece Bell's new book El Deafo (out in September), mine was so small it was not noticeable unless you looked into my ear canal. After waiting two weeks from the fitting appointment, my hearing aid arrived just in time for the beginning of last school year.

Like Cece, I was amazed at how loud everything sounded! Shuffling papers sounded like metal crushing. Putting away dishes sounded like I was breaking them. My usual television volume needed to be cut in half. I had to ask my husband, "Have our children always been this loud?" (He told me they have.)

The biggest change was in my classroom.

Thirty+ students are loud. Louder than I had ever heard (since my hearing loss occurred only four months after starting my first teaching job).

I had to step out in the hall and ask a colleague to go in my room to see if they were louder than what the collaborative activity required. She said that the noise level was what a typical class sounds like.

I was shocked and saddened by all that I had probably missed my students say over the past twenty years. How many had asked questions I didn't hear? How many comments had I misinterpreted? How many became frustrated and gave up asking or commenting?

When I read El Deafo, I felt like someone understood what it was like for me. Although I was not hearing impaired in K-12 (or even in college), I experienced many of the same emotions as Cece. I didn't have a Phonic Ear around my neck connected by cords to my ears, but I always felt different. I was embarrassed telling people I didn't hear what they said since they were talking into my bad ear. I desperately wanted to go to Happy Hour or social gatherings with my colleagues, but didn't because I knew I would miss too much conversation due to the noise. There was a part of my life I was missing.

This past year, with my hearing aid, I felt like I was part of the world again. It's amazing how many situations I used to avoid because they made it difficult for me to hear and carry on conversations. When wearing my hearing aid, I catch almost every word and don't have to sit in a certain spot or angle my head to hear what's being said. I know the hearing aid is in, but nobody else does unless I tell them. It has made such a difference, especially with my students.

We need diverse books like El Deafo so students and teachers like Cece and me can relate to characters in books. We need to read books about situations like our own. I am excited to have a copy of El Deafo in my classroom library (and our school's media center) so students can read Cece's story and gain insight into someone's different life experience.

Thank you, Cece Bell. We need THIS diverse book!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

How Twitter is like NBC's "The Voice"

I've been thinking about this a lot lately.

What I love about the show, "The Voice," is that it allows contestants to be judged on the quality of their voice alone. The audience can see them, but the four judges have their chairs turned around and cannot.

When these brave (and lucky) souls open their mouths to sing, the judges either turn around in support of their vocal talent or they don't. It doesn't matter what they look like or what they're wearing. It doesn't matter if they can dance or not (although it sometimes negatively affects their singing).

They make it onto a judge's team based solely on the music they offer.

How refreshing!

When I first joined Twitter one year ago, it was like auditioning for The Voice.

Nobody could see me (except a small profile picture). Nobody could hear me talk. Nobody could see me teach. They couldn't see my classroom or my students. They couldn't see my messy house (although it's cleaner in the summer months).

Through Twitter, I was able to share only what I chose to share. At first, I was careful to only tweet out my best thoughts and ideas. I was trying desperately to make a great first impression. This is similar to a competitor on The Voice. They walk on stage and sing the best they know how. If they make it on a judge's team (and therefore, make it on the show), they can challenge themselves and try different styles.

All that the members of my PLN can judge me on are my tweets. Do they offer a new idea or perspective? Are they in line with their own thinking? Do my tweets challenge their thinking? Do they link to other's awesome ideas? Do they demonstrate my positive feelings toward their ideas?

Once the number of followers increased and I "made it" on the Twitter "show," I shared a little more of myself. I felt more comfortable offering a divergent opinion or sharing my own ideas (even pictures and videos of my students). I joined chats and tweeted out opinions that may have differed from my peers. I have experienced huge professional growth over the past year, as do most of the contestants on The Voice.

Maybe this is why I like the show so much. All contestants have the unique opportunity to be judged only on the song they choose to share. Then, they have the support of the judges, the fans, and the show to push themselves as artists.

My tweets are like my song. My PLN members are my judges and fans.

Thanks to my wonderful PLN for choosing me to take a spot on your team. I have never regretted my decision to choose any of you as part of mine.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Reach out!

Who would have thought some friendly banter would lead to a respectful, collegial friendship?

A few months ago, I was involved in a Twitter chat during a playoff game between the MN Wild and the Chicago Blackhawks.

Friendly "banter" was exchanged via tweets between a teacher/Blackhawk fan and myself (a Minnesotan & Wild fan by default).

That Blackhawk fan was Greg Armamentos, or @dashthebook.

I believe the Blackhawks won that game, and they went on to play in the semi-final game.
However, that's not what matters.

I discovered that Greg had recently published a book, so I looked it up on Amazon and placed my order.  He started writing it with his students, which is awesome. Also, he self-published (like Dave Burgess), which I admired. It arrived a few days later, and I quickly read it from cover to cover.

It was an incredible story-one that I shared with a few students before the end of the school year. Greg has since sent a signed copy of his book to my school (so I can keep that one and put the other in my classroom library). Thanks to Greg's generosity, my new students can look forward to a Skype visit from Greg (the author) this fall.

The story doesn't end there.

As the school year wound down, another Twitter teacher Ben Kuhlman (@bkuhl2you) issued a challenge called #10summerblogs. Greg jumped in (although he and Ben already had blogs), which encouraged me to give it a try. I had wanted to blog for a while, but this was the push I needed to get started.

Greg was the inspiration for one of my posts about validation (needing our backs scratched). He reminded me that we all (students and teachers) have something worthwhile to say. I was encouraged to share my unique voice with the larger Twitter community.

Every time I publish a new post, Greg is there with kind words and support. He does this with all #10summerblogs participants, as well as authors of books he adores.

Thanks to him, I have read more blogs from wonderful Twitter teachers, and I have enjoyed new books like Circa Now and Dash. I even braved my first time moderating a twitter chat (#5thchat) with an author I admire- Erik Palmer. It was a phenomenal experience!

During a recent Twins game against the White Sox, our friendly rivalry was ignited again. This time it was the MN team (Twins) who won that series, despite currently trailing the Sox in our division.

Although this seems like a tribute to Greg (and he's humble enough not to need it), it's really a post about how you never know what can happen when you reach out on Twitter. When you connect with other educators who share a similar passion. Even when you give them a hard time about their sports team.

Who knew that some friendly banter about the Wild and Blackhawks would lead to a Twitter friendship that inspires and supports me as an educator?

Make sure to reach out and connect. You never know the great people you'll meet.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Pirating of Future Problem Solving

     From June 12-15, I had the wonderful opportunity to chaperone four of my Future Problem Solving team to Iowa State University for the International Competition. For those who don't know what Future Problem Solving (FPS) is, here's a short description, taken from

Founded by creativity pioneer, Dr. E. Paul Torrance, Future Problem Solving Program International (FPSPI) stimulates critical and creative thinking skills, encourages students to develop a vision for the future, and prepares students for leadership roles.  Future Problem Solving Program International involves thousands of students annually from Australia, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Portugal, Singapore, Turkey, United Kingdom, and the United States.
FPSPI Mission: To develop the ability of young people globally to design and promote positive futures using critical, creative thinking. 

Students are given a topic ahead of time so they can conduct research and brainstorm possible challenges and solutions. Then, on competition day, they read a one-page future (30+ years in the future) scene that's filled with detail and topic-specific vocabulary. The scene ends with a charge statement, which directs the focus of the students' work.  For exactly two hours, the team (four members) works their way through six steps with only a dictionary, pens/pencils, and scratch paper.

The six steps are:
  1. brainstorming 16 challenges (written in correct format)
  2. deciding on one underlying problem (UP) and including all components
  3. brainstorming 16 solutions (written in correct format)
  4. deciding on five criteria (written in correct format)
  5. using a grid to rank order their top eight solutions according to the five criteria, in order to discover their best solution
  6. writing a 3-4 paragraph action plan, incorporating the 5 Ws and H, that details how their best solution to the future scene would be implemented

Since I recently adopted the pirate philosophy, shared by teacher/author Dave Burgess, I realized how closely the FPS experience mirrors the six TLAP components.

P (passion)
     Each level of FPS competition (from qualifying all the way to internationals, or IC) encourages students and coaches to bring passion to their research. However, in his book, Teach Like a Pirate, Dave asserts that teachers aren't always passionate about what they teach. The same can be said about students and their learning. Our topics this year included surveillance society, land transportation, and space.  Although the first one generated the most interest, I'd say the last two were not as exciting to my kids. Although we learned so much about all three topics, my two girls had to fake their passion for our IC topic: space.
     FPS competitions consist of their written booklet and their skit, where teams act out their action plan. As their coach, I decided to generate passion for the IC performance by using some meeting time to share and listen to space-related songs (Rocket Man, The Final Countdown, Supermassive Black Hole) and watch space-related movie trailers (Star wars, Apollo 13, Gravity, E.T.). Of course we researched as much as we could about space in general, but focusing on the skit helped my girls find their personal passion since they enjoy performing. *The result of this passion was a 3rd place finish in the skit portion. Only the top two teams moved on to the finals, but we were pleased with out ranking.

I (immersion)
In order to do well at FPS competitions, teams can't simply focus on their assigned topic; they need to be immersed in it! Not only did we immerse ourselves in space research while we were in our meetings, but I encouraged the students to spend time each day immersing themselves in the vocabulary, the visuals, and the wonder of space. Turning the lights off when we watched trailers, music videos, images of moon landings and solar eclipses helped us tune out the hustle and bustle around us.

At the competition, we couldn't help but be immersed in this topic. Everything was space. We even had an opportunity to listen to a former astronaut talk about his trips to the International Space Station, accompanied by incredible video and images.

R (rapport)
Since this group has been with me for two years, we've had ample time to develop a strong rapport. I started with 31-5th graders last year (which was overwhelming for just one coach). This year, 11 of those students (now 6th graders) took on the challenge. Of the 11, eight continued on to the State Competition. As I mentioned, a lucky four won 1st place at State, qualifying for IC.

We all got to know each other very well during weekly meetings and brainstorming sessions. In the months from State to IC, we met more often and cemented our bond. One of our fundraisers was "duct tape an FPSer to the Wall." Let's say that one helped us "stick" together even more.

The beauty of a 3-day competition out of state is the opportunity it presents to truly get to know each other on a more personal level. We shared experiences, like sleeping down the hall from each other in the dorm, eating all meals in the ISU cafeteria, and walking around the campus on a scavenger hunt (with their moms). It was sad to say goodbye on the final day.

A (ask & analyze)
These two are built into the six steps of FPS. However, the "six word" story that Dave shares on pages 38-42 helped me as a coach give my students full credit for their hard work researching and learning the FPS process. They didn't make it to IC because they are "so smart." They made it because they worked their tails off. In addition, they learned lots from the feedback the judges provided at each stage. Last year, only three of these students made it to State (and none to IC). However, they all learned so much from comments on their written booklets and used that feedback to improve their work and make it farther in the competition this year. I'm overjoyed that all want to continue with FPS in some form, despite the fact that they are too old for the junior division, which I coach. They don't feel like they are "done" with FPS yet.

T (transformation)
No, my FPS students didn't "have" to be there. They all willingly signed up for this before-school (some Saturdays) experience. In addition, 11 of them signed up again, knowing all of the hard work that goes into this activity. Some students enjoyed the research, others enjoyed the skits, while others enjoyed the camaraderie with their classmates and the competitions themselves. A few even joined this group because they weren't in my classroom and wanted to have me as a teacher for something. (I was honored.) When I shared the opportunity with all 5th graders back in the fall of 2012, I included all of these aspects in the hopes that at least one of them would stick with different students. Like Dave stated, I reframed the content, value and relevancy to my students' lives.

E (enthusiasm)
This is my portion. My enthusiasm for FPS is what encouraged kids to sign up, what kept them coming to each meeting, and what drove many of them to sign up for a second year. My enthusiasm is what inspired the final four students to desire more FPS. They don't want their experience to just end. These students asked if they could continue with scenario writing or community problem solving (also under the FPS umbrella) because they are thirsty to learn more. They are even willing to help coach my new students instead, if that's a way to continue with the program.

I'm proud to call these students pirates. They have passion, they immerse themselves in learning, they have developed rapport with their teammates, they know how to ask & analyze, they have transformed their learning, and they have oodles of enthusiasm, Who knows where our paths will lead us, but I would love to be their coach/captain for the remainder of their journey. They are a phenomenal group of kids!

Monday, June 9, 2014

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Podium


All of these skills I thought I'd been teaching for the past umpteen years. My students have never had any trouble talking, so of course they could speak. Or so I thought.

Then I read Erik Palmer's book,Well Spoken: Teaching Speaking Skills to All Students, and realized that not only have I failed to teach my students to speak effectively, but I hadn't been teaching them to prepare writing to be spoken aloud.

Sure, I talked about making eye contact and taking deep breaths...about slowing down because we usually speak faster in front of an audience...about practicing in front of a mirror.

My students shared during morning meeting, discussed during literature circles, and read the assigned D.A.R.E. essay in front of the class each spring. However, judging from the bored looks on my students' faces as they listened to the monotony of essays on the day these were read aloud,
I know that my teaching of speaking skills had missed the mark.

However, I've learned from my failure. As B.F. Skinner said, "A failure is not always a mistake, it may simply be the best one can do under the circumstances. The real mistake is to stop trying."
So, keep trying I must!
Back to Erik Palmer's book, which I picked up on recommendation from Kelly Gallagher (who wrote the forward). I read this book, with sections on creating a respectful classroom atmosphere, building a speech with the presentation in mind, and presenting that speech effectively.

I learned about PVLEGS
Eye Contact

This past year, I revamped my teaching to include mindful instruction, modeling, and practice with Erik's ideas. I taught each of the PVLEGS, using many of the activities in the book and on his website,

And we practiced.
We made fools of ourselves and felt uncomfortable at first.
We laughed at the strange mannerisms we discovered once we watched ourselves back on video.
We became more comfortable and willing to try different ways to work on our speaking skills.

We realized that there's a lot more that goes into presenting to an audience (even to our peers) than reading the words a few times and adding a joke or two to lighten the mood.  Even eye contact has a certain finesse, and gestures can be more powerful when added at just the right time.

We practiced our PVLEGS in any way we could. We noticed others' speaking skills (in person and in videos). Our school's morning announcements were a great source of material. Students are surrounded by numerous examples of strong and effective speakers, especially on the internet. I called out specific PVLEGS to look for in advance, or commented on those I noticed afterwards. My students became very comfortable sharing the good and the bad. They also learned how to take critiques and learn from them. There was a wealth of formative assessment to go around.

This spring, I added a listening component when I got my hands on Erik Palmer's new book, Teaching the Core Skills of Speaking and Listening. Yes, my students had learned to listen more effectively when we focused on PVLEGS elements. However, the words in this book encouraged me to include listening lessons in my instruction.

It's not just about students looking at the speaker, nodding and laughing at appropriate spots, or even taking relevant notes. I want my students to listen and truly be engaged in their learning.

Sections in this new book include: collaborating/discussing, listening/media literacy, questioning/reasoning, adapting for the occasion & assessing listening and speaking. I was only able to dabble in these activities in April and May, yet we'd never had richer Socratic Seminars than our final few.

Erik has this to say about speaking and listening, "They are so deeply embedded in so many aspects of our lives that most of us don't think about them much." He goes on to compare these skills to a fish in water. Since it is surrounded by water, a fish doesn't realize its importance and takes it for granted.

I agree with Erik that it's time to change that.

I've brought speaking and listening to the forefront of my teaching, highlighting their use whenever I can. So much emphasis is placed on reading and writing, but speaking and listening have been a largely ignored player in Language Arts planning and instruction.

This fall, I look forward to getting started right away. Yes, my students will talk a lot in my classroom! However, they will also discover how to speak and to truly listen to each other.

What a gift I will be giving them!

Palmer, E. (2014). Teaching the core skills of listening & Speaking.Alexandria, VA: ASCD
Palmer, E. (2011). Well Spoken: Teaching speaking to all students. Portland, ME: Stenhouse  Publishers.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Passing on the Liebster Award Honor


I just received word that a treasured member of my PLN nominated me (and four other bloggers) for a Liebster Award. This blogger (and teacher/father/author/runner) who nominated me, Greg Armamentos, shared that bloggers give the award to each other to "recognize and promote blogs that inspire and enrich us." I am honored my this nomination as validation of the importance of my voice.

Here are the Liebster Award rules:
A. List 11 Facts about yourself.
B. Answer the 11 questions put forward by whoever nominated you.
C. Ask 11 new questions to 5+ bloggers. They must have less than 200 followers on Bloglovin’ (or their preferred blog site). You cannot re-nominate the blog that nominated you.
D. Go to their blogs and inform them that they have been nominated!

11 Facts about me:
  1. I have been married to my wonderful husband 18 years ago tomorrow (June 8th). Happy anniversary, honey!
  2. I have a 16-year old son who creates fabulous art, just started driving and got his first job at the neighborhood gas station today. My daughter will soon be 13, and is a beautiful dancer.
  3. My first three years of teaching were in the Ysleta District in El Paso, Texas. I loved the weather, the children (1st and 2nd grade), and the beautiful mountains (and sunsets).
  4. My favorite book of all time is still The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, and my favorite movie is Sixteen Candles. I had the biggest crush on Jake!
  5. I am a huge Minnesota Twins fan, and have a life-size poster of Joe Mauer in my classroom (as well as a Joe Mauer doll and Joe Mauer on a stick). He's kind of our class mascot.
  6. I love all kinds of music. Despite the fact that I can't sing in tune, remember the lyrics to almost every song I've ever heard more than a few times (even songs from my favorite decade-the 80s).
  7. If it isn't obvious by my profile picture, I respect and admire teacher/author Kelly Gallagher. He inspires me to be a better teacher of Reading and Writing (English), and is one of the reasons I plan to get my Secondary English license and teach High School English in the near future.
  8. I love to talk! No, seriously, I could talk all day. Once, while driving down to my parents' house in Arkansas, the call dropped and I continued to talk for about 10 miles before I realized there was nobody on the line. My husband usually falls asleep to the sweet sounds of my voice.
  9. I am a reality TV junkie (mainly music shows like The Voice and American Idol). There's something about watching young men and women follow their dreams that gets me every time. I call it my "fluff TV" and watch it to decompress after stressful days. Sometimes it's refreshing not to follow a deep, complicated plot.
  10. I am living in the wrong state. I despise the cold weather of MN (and anywhere north). When I graduated from college, I immediately moved to Texas, claiming it would be a cold day you-know-where before I would ever live in MN again. Who would have known that my now-husband would follow me down there, propose, and drag me back up here to live by our families. (We met in college.) Eighteen years later, I'm still here...
  11. My long-term goal is to move to some quaint little town in a warm state and teach at a local college. The idea of shaping and inspiring a young energetic crop of teachers motivates me. For now, I will continue to hone my craft and gather the wealth of experience needed to feel confident passing it on to others.
The 11 questions asked of me by Greg:
1. Tell us how you were drawn into teaching.
There's nothing else I wanted to do. I know it's cliché, but it's the truth. My older sister and I played school with our younger brother. Funny-she's an administrator now.
2. Tell us about one of the teachers who impacted you as a child.
My 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Geistfeld, was also my Future Problem Solving coach. She was such a smart lady who loved challenging her students. Now, 30+ years later, I am a 5th grade teacher and a Future Problem Solving coach, taking my team to the International Competition in Ames, Iowa next week. It's like I have become Mrs. Geistfeld.
3. If you could only read 5 books to your class, which would you choose?

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea
Top Ten Ways to Ruin the First Day of School by Ken Derby
A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd
4. Your greatest accomplishment is…
Being happily married and raising two wonderful children! No matter what else I do in my life, nothing gives me greater pleasure.
5. Most interesting teacher appreciation gift you have received was…
This year, I received a jar filled with sand, water, and seashells. The card accompanying the gift stated, "You're the best teacher in the ocean! But since I can't give you the whole ocean, I'll give you as much as I can." Where others might just see sediment, I see the sentiment!
6. You have been asked to share to at a national teachers conference. You’re discussing…
I'd be discussing real-world writing and deeper reading, as well as the importance of teaching speaking and listening skills. Of course, my co-presenters would be Kelly Gallagher and Erik Palmer (and I'd be wearing an eye patch and bandana).
7. New construction has begun in your town. You hope they are building a new…
Nothing...they are already building a huge housing development around our beautiful library. I miss the wilderness that used to surround this building when my kids and I would bike up the path every week in the summer to check out new books.
8. One biography you’d love to recommend is…
The Ben Carson Story
9. When you were a student, teachers most likely thought you ….
They would have thought I was a model student (because I was). I loved school, homework and reading.
10. Three songs on your iPod to share are…
(oldie but goodie) Dance With My Father by Luther Vandross
Classic by MKTO
Say Something by A Great Big World
11. The question I should have asked you is…
Which careers do you hope your children choose?

My Liebster Nominations:
I am nominating 5 of my blogger friends from the #10summerblogs challenge, which inspired me to start blogging. In the words of one of my daughter's favorite songs from High School Musical, "We're All in This Together."

Here are my 11 questions of these bloggers:
  1. How would you describe your teaching (or leadership) style?
  2. What is one piece of advice you would give your younger self?
  3. What is your favorite quote, and why is it meaningful to you?
  4. Describe one "do-over" you'd like to have.
  5. Who is your favorite sports team?
  6. Which author would you most like to meet, and what is one question you would ask him/her?
  7. Name a book that you could read again and again and discover something new?
  8. What is your guilty pleasure? Why?
  9. Which song do you like to crank up really loud and either sing or dance to it?
  10. What is one career accomplishment you still have?
  11. Name one activity/hobby you do today that you have been doing since you were a child (and you can't say reading). What motivates you to continue?


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Everyone Needs Their Backs Scratched Once in a While

Well, I had every intention of writing a post about how Twitter has influenced my teaching, or how it is the best PD out there. However, it seems like everyone and their brother is singing Twitter's praises.
I intended to write about a topic that touched a nerve with a dear member of my Twitter PLN. That topic is measuring up.

However, this post is not about measuring up.

Yes, this post is about Twitter, but it is not focused on self-deprecating feelings.

Twitter has been incredible professional development, but it has offered something better.

That's validation.

I've spent a lot of years wondering if what I've been doing and how I've been teaching has value. Our profession is not one where we brag or boast about our lessons or successes. We often shy away from tooting our horns.

Dave Burgess commented in the May 5th #tlap chat, "We often forget to give ourselves credit for our accomplishments and brush off compliments." This was the beginning of the question that generated the fewest tweets, "How do you celebrate your own successes?"  Dave later tweeted that teachers need to work on this and it's ok to celebrate.

That leads me to Twitter validation. Until joining Twitter last year, I lacked validation for my efforts. Sure, I knew that I was doing great things for my students. I heard from parents, and could see successes on the faces of my students. However, I was missing something...validation from the teacher community. This makes sense because I rarely shared with my peers the great things I was doing in my classroom.

When I became more involved with Twitter, I was surprised how easy peer validation can be. I was reading tweets (and viewing posts and examples) about the most amazing ideas. With the click of a button, I could validate these educator's efforts and celebrate their successes. I enjoyed reading about the various ways educators from around the world were engaging their students and making learning fun.

Once I joined Twitter chats and started sharing my own ideas and strategies, I was overwhelmed with comments, favorites and retweets. Many followed me, and I started following them. I sought out other educators to add to my PLN who taught like me and pushed me to become better.

I consider Twitter to be a mutual admiration society. There is no hierarchy of educators in this community...only sharing and celebrating with peers. I learn from educators in all positions, and from all areas of the world. The best part: they also learn from me. Little old me from Brooklyn Park, MN. I can affect change in classrooms on the other side of the world. One simple idea I have in the middle of the night can turn into an amazing experience that can be shared and replicated on a much larger scale.

Three years ago, a high school English colleague and I started presenting at a summer literacy institute for district educators. We presented on TPFASTT, SOAPSTone, DIDLS, Socratic Seminar and Six Thinking Hats. So far, we have reached about 250 district educators.

Next week, we'll share blogging (Kidblogs), PVLEGS, Teach Like a Pirate hooks, Notice and Note Signposts, and adding TodaysMeet as a back channel for Socratic Seminar. This year, our umbrella is deepening literary discussions and increasing student engagement. We have about 50 4th-6th grade teachers signed up.

Although I thrive on the "in person" feedback we receive after our sessions, I have a greater appreciation for the bursts of feedback I receive after tweeting about an idea. This is especially true during Twitter chats, when my PLN is simultaneously at their computers...all of us searching for an idea or comment to spark an interest and affect change that will positively impact our students.

No, educators don't teach for the accolades. However, it sure is nice to feel validated by one's peers.

This validation runs rampant in the Twitter community.  I enjoy scratching the backs of my PLN, but I also enjoy having my back scratched once in a while.

Thanks to all of you wonderful educators!
We make each other better.
Let's celebrate our successes.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Not a Fan of Change

Yes, I'll admit it. I'm not a fan of change. Never have been.

I balked at getting a phone with a camera years ago, claiming, "Why would I need a camera on my phone when I have a perfectly good digital camera right here?" I currently have 900+ photos on my camera roll...on my iPhone.

I scoffed at the idea of DVR. And now whenever I fast forward the DVR and I have to watch a LIVE show, I scream out, "Oh, the insanity!!!!" Ever since we signed up, I have not seen one commercial except those during the Superbowl.

I still have my 1st generation iPad (yes, the one WITHOUT a camera) because I feel it's a collector's item. "It was the first one," I'd whine,"and my husband would often brag that it was the best birthday present he ever bought for me." Needless to say, my district passed a technology levy and all teachers will get iPad Airs this summer. I'll admit to being excited to have some technology that is a bit more up-to-date.

So, it's clear that I have a history of wanting things to remain as they are.

Being an educator flies in the face of the status quo. To stay the same means to be boring. "Old school" Un-engaging. Passionless. Everything I hope to avoid in my teaching career.

As a teacher, I embrace change. I seek it out...I crave it! No matter how wonderful the lesson was last week, month or year, I need to find a way to make it even better.

I have different kids.
They have different needs.
There's a new technology tool.
I read a new book, and can't believe I haven't been teaching this way.
I have a different schedule.
There's a different mandate or standard.

I'm a different person.                  
It's me who's changed.

Then, there's Twitter.
Wow, if spending time on Twitter, following all of these excellent educators doesn't make you want to try new ideas, you're dead inside.

It's like having the education "yellow pages" at my disposal and being given free reign to let my fingers do the walking. And I've walked, believe me! I've even started to sprint.

Not a day or week goes by when I don't change a lesson or more to add in an idea I saw on Twitter. Whether it's adding an engagement idea, a hook, a new strategy, or a technology tool, I am invigorated by change. In fact, each year I lament about how much I shortchanged my previous students because I wasn't the teacher I am today.

 I'm sure I will feel the same way next year, and the year after that.

As for now, there are a few more lessons I need to change. Darn Twitter chats!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Gettin' My Blog On

Here I the beginning of a new journey.


I always wanted to start a blog, but never felt like I had anything to say that hadn't been said many times before.

Not anymore.

I've been passionate about teaching reading and writing for many years.
Passionate about reaching my highest readers and pushing them to think deeper and more critically than they ever had before.
Passionate about inspiring a love of writing, making it fun, and creating a sense of writing purpose.
Passionate about sharing my love of reading with students in such a way that they continue to be lifelong readers.

Up until last summer, I kept that passion within the four walls of my classroom. Sure, I'd share ideas with colleagues. I even co-taught a June workshop to (in total) 200+ district educators (I'm going on my 4th year). During these workshops, a high school colleague and I share our creative ideas and books/authors we admire. However, none of my 4-6 grade teammates shared my philosophy or read the same educator books. They didn't teach like me, and I felt stuck.

I received my Masters in Adolescent Literacy & Technology.
I was reading all things Kelly Gallagher (and still do).

I read and loved books by:
Donalyn Miller (The Book Whisperer)
Ralph Fletcher (Mentor Author, Mentor Texts)
Matt Copeland (Socratic Circles)
Edward de Bono (Six Thinking Hats)
Chris Tovani (I Read it, But I Don't Get It)

Immersing myself in these books set me on a personal professional development trajectory, shaping me into the best teacher I could be.

Then, a spark...

I attended Kelly Gallagher's 3-day writing workshop in Eau Claire, WI last June. Yes, it was the highlight of my career. I walked in, and there he was at the podium, looking all...normal. Here was my idol, the one whose books were so dog-eared and full of post-its that I could pretty much open up any page and find a lesson I'd taught. Of course, I sat in the front row, a lonely MN teacher among all of these Wisconsinites. Many were not as star struck as me, and some, GASP, had not even heard of Kelly Gallagher. For three days, I soaked up all the learning I could from this master teacher, and listened to him talk passionately about ideas from his book (many that I had tried). He was an engaging storyteller, and the three days were over too fast. His words renewed my passion for teaching real-world writing purposes and deep reading strategies.

Yes, I had my Write Like This book autographed, and got to share a conversation and shake his hand. However, something more important happened that week.  I joined Twitter! 

Funny enough, my husband had said on numerous occasions, "You should join Twitter." He follows national news and ESPN, and claimed Twitter was a great way to stay up to date on current events. Repeatedly, I dismissed his requests, thinking I could just get my news from my homepage and Facebook.

But here was Kelly Gallagher emphatically encouraging every educator to sign up for Twitter. He said that he had resisted at first, but found it to be the best professional development anywhere.

You can guess what happened next.

I signed up for a Twitter account that same night in my hotel room, and the first person I followed was @KellyGToGo. I looked for other teachers and authors I had read, and followed them too.

For the first few months, I lurked. Gradually following educators who shared engaging ideas and links to inspiring blogs. I received a few followers in return. I was not a large personality on Twitter, but Twitter was having a large impact on my teaching.

I'd read about an idea, and then try it with my students. I started posting some of my own ideas, complete with pictures, and replying to other educators with questions and thanks.

My reading this year included:

Kyleen Beers and Bob Probst (Notice and Note)
Donalyn Miller (Reading in the Wild)
Teri Lesene (Reading Ladders, Making the Match)
Erik Palmer (Well Spoken, Teaching the Core Skills of Listening and Speaking)
Dave Burgess (Teach Like a Pirate)

All of these great reads I owe to Twitter. I linked up with educators who share my passion and philosophy of teaching. I joined Twitter chats, not just lurking- but tweeting my name/location and becoming a contributing member.

My first chat was #tlap, where I got to know Dave Burgess and found out that I am a pirate at heart. There's an enthusiastic group of educators!

I chatted with #titletalk (and Donalyn Miller), #teachwriting, #5thchat, #sstlap, #txedchat, #21stedchat, #engchat, #nctechat, and most recently #larcstl (where I tweeted with THE Kyleen Beers and Bob Probst).

My students and I participated in the Global Read-Aloud after reading about it from teacher creator Pernille Ripp. I introduced my students to Skype, chatting with authors Dave Burgess and David A Kelly. I want to ramp it up next year and Skype more often, hopefully joining MysterySkype. I heard about FlipGrid through Twitter chats, and now have a yearly subscription. My students love it!

I consider Twitter my teacher "family" and look forward to reading the feeds and joining in on chats to both learn and share. I have met so many fabulous educators who share the same passion for their craft as I do. I have opened up my classroom and my teaching to the world, no longer containing my passion within the walls of my classroom.

I do have something to say, and now I am sharing my voice with the world. It fulfills me as an educator. I am part of something larger than myself.

So, here it is. My first blog post. My new journey has begun!

Thanks for being part of it.