Friday, February 27, 2015

The Little #stu2stuchat That Could!

Last fall, I had an idea.

I had fallen in love with Twitter chats. Through my participation, I met many amazing educators, shared philosophies and teaching ideas, formed friendships and found inspiration to connect my students to the world outside our classroom.

I joined in a number of different chats over the spring and summer, with every one filling a need and giving me an online voice, or presence. As I looked ahead to the 2014-15 school year and thought about what I could do to give my students that same voice, I came up with an idea.

A student Twitter chat.

One of my favorite group of Twitter friends is made up of amazing #5thchat educators. I love my Teach Like a Pirate crew, but since I teach 5th grade- these are my "people." (We do have our fair share of pirates in this group as well.)

Before school started, I reached out to this group and a few other awesome educators I'd met on Twitter, and started a Google Spreadsheet of Connectivity. I asked these educators if they would be willing to collaborate throughout the year via blogs, Skypes, etc. Overwhelmingly, they shared their information and our group was formed.

We have Skyped together, had our kids comment on each others' blog posts, collaborated on TodaysMeet, and participated in a book chat for Smoky Night by Eve Bunting, led by the incomparable Jess Lifshitz @JessLifTeach . Last week, a few of us started a 5thchatters Voxer group, with the goal of collaborating around a shared book, using padlet. Plans are in the works.

This post, however, is not about those collaborations. It's about that student Twitter chat, called (with input from the group), #stu2stuchat .

There didn't seem to be anything else out there like it. So, we started with just a few of our classes. The purpose was for our students to chat with each other. At first, they were learning the ins and outs of Twitter, from hashtags and character limits to retweets and answering questions with A1, A2. We were working on digital citizenship in real time. In the beginning, my students were so excited when our tweets would get retweeted or favorited.

However, something clicked in me, realizing I was not practicing what I preach. We learn more from listening to the ideas of others rather than doing the talking ourselves. I needed to shift the tide and help my students see that the real value in Twitter chats is what others bring to the conversation. We lurked for a chat, when I moderated. We read the comments from the participating classes, and retweeted and favorited those tweets that resonated with us. Yes, we learned much more that way.

Over the past few months, my students have chatted with other classes about books they like, engaging math lessons, #oneword and New Year's Resolutions, speaking/listening, and being leaders.

Just this past Wednesday, we had our largest number of students participating. The topic was passion, genius and wondering. I was amazed at how quickly the time flew! Our four questions, starting with one that asked students to define the difference between these three concepts (if any) generated a wealth of passionate ingenious ideas! Since Angela Maiers is such a champion of the #youmatter movement and encourages students to share their genius, I alerted her to our little chat. Lo and behold, she joined in, offering her insight and wisdom. #daymade It was a huge moment for our little chat!

Fellow teachers like Kim @khurdhorst , Heidi @MrsJones_Merton , Paul @PaulSolarz and Jess @JessLifTeach helped promote the bi-monthly chats on Twitter, Facebook and Voxer. We even were featured on the @edtechbaton (thanks to Kim) one day. This recent chat was also a first for a few other reasons. A fellow teacher, Leslie @LPralleKeehn 's 3rd grade daughter tweeted from home on her snow day, while fellow Health/PE teacher Jenny @JennyWamsley had her classes compose written answers to the questions, with a few of her students live tweeting as well.

In the tweeted words of Angela Maiers, "It is so beautiful and affirming to see so many students talking about their passions!" I couldn't agree more.

Our next #stu2stuchat is scheduled for Wednesday, March 11th from 2:10-2:30 pm CST. My students hope you can join us to discuss "What motivates you?"

Give your students a voice outside your classroom. Aren't you just the slightest bit interested to hear what they will say?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Mutual Admiration Society (MAS)

This post is inspired in part by a dear Twitter friend, Jess Lifshitz @JessLifTeach . Actually, it's directly influenced by a few incredible tweets she recently posted.

The first was about one of her students, whose op-ed piece was published in their local paper. The other tweet was about @TheWeirdTeacher (Doug Robertson) reading a book to her students via Skype.

Both of these tweets just scream awesomeness! Both are phenomenal opportunities for her students. Both could make me, a fellow 5th grade teacher green with envy. But they don't. That's because we are part of a growing Mutual Admiration Society (MAS) on Twitter. For a while now, I've joked with Jess that I am the president of her fan club. However, she doesn't need me in her fan club since we have a mutual respect for the passion we each bring to our students in our respective classrooms. We are excited for each other's highs (like when both of us had our first Nerdy Book Club posts within the same week), and support each other during the stresses and struggles of a job we love that can often leave little time for the people we love the most...our families.

It would be too easy to become jealous of the wonderful ideas and creativity shared by my Twitter PLN. However, the power of a MAS keeps everything in perspective. I surround myself with an amazing group of educators at all levels, from teachers to administrators. Here are just a few.

Greg Armamentos @dashthebook writes an incredible blog, leads a running club, and inspires his students to become service-minded. He's in my MAS.

Heidi Jones @MrsJones_Merton has her students create and film a monthly video newsletter, leads the pirate movement at her school (along with her fabulous principal), and brings the joy to all she meets with her "awesomesauce." She's a fellow pirate in my MAS.

Scott Akerson @MrA47 seeks out every opportunity to connect his students using technology. My students and I have been lucky to be collaborating on our third project with his classes. He is another pirate in my MAS.

Erik Palmer @erik_palmer is an author and speaker, but at his core-an incredible teacher. He leads by example, spreading the message that teaching speaking & listening is critical to student success. He's in my MAS.

Jenny Wamsley @JennyWamsley teaches Health/PE, and knows the value of accessing her resources to learn and use any available tech tool in her lessons. Recently, she integrated literature into her health classes to engage her students. She's also a Voxer queen, who is a master of voice motivation in the mornings. She's in my MAS.

Brad Gustafson @GustafsonBrad and Mark French @PrincipalFrench are elementary principals in my home state of Minnesota. Both are leaders in their buildings and districts. They also serve as leaders among principals all over the state and the larger Twitter community. However, it's their devotion to their students and passion for their profession that inspires me. They are both in my MAS.

Shauna Pollock @misspollock and Melissa Eddington @melsa777 started the Weird Teacher book club on Twitter and Voxer. They share amazing stories and have organizational skills galore. Shauna recently invited a few of us on #weirdtbc into a collaborative story writing project, which Melissa and I jumped on. They are both in my MAS.

This is just a snapshot of a few members of my MAS. I could go on and on describing its many members, since I never cease to be amazed by all of the brilliance surrounding me on Twitter. Instead of letting the noise of their accolades drown out my voice, this idea of a Mutual Admiration Society lets all of our accomplishments sing in the choir. We take pride in each other's successes. We celebrate the exciting projects in each other's classrooms, and often get our own students involved. We don't let jealousy cause us to feel unworthy, because we know we are better when surrounded by an inspirational PLN.

I'll bet you are part of a Mutual Admiration Society, too. Just look around you.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

I Feel Like I'm Home Again

Oh, Kelly Gallagher! How you have forever changed my teaching for the better.

I have always loved teaching reading and writing, but it wasn't until a colleague introduced me to Readicide four years ago that I was on my way to becoming the teacher I am today.

Yes, Readicide was the beginning, I read it cover to cover and felt like he was speaking right to me. Then came Reading Reasons, which I lovingly shared with all of my students on a mission to spread the importance of reading. Next was Deeper Reading, which pushed me further away from novel packets, worksheets and arts & crafts. This book empowered me to encourage deep book discussions, and caused me to lose my remaining grip on literal questions as the only way to check for understanding. 

Finally came Write Like This. Two years ago, I had the absolute pleasure of attending a 3-day writing workshop from my reading/writing hero. I went alone, paid my own way, and soaked up every bit of writing knowledge from Mr. Gallagher himself. When I had the opportunity to meet him and shake his hand, he signed my Write Like This book, with its numerous dog-eared and highlighted pages, chock full of post-its. The funny thing was, just about every lesson he shared, I had engaged my students with wild success. Hearing him share the reasoning behind these writing activities, and watching him talk the talk, was nothing short of amazing. I got a photo with him, which I had made into a framed 8x10 and now proudly display in my classroom (and on my website). My former students returned to my room that fall to see the picture I promised I would have, and I didn't disappoint. 

Kelly Gallagher was the reason I joined Twitter (because he said it was the best thing any teacher could do). His forward in Erik Palmer's Well Spoken was the reason I bought that book, which transformed my teaching of speaking and listening. (That's a whole other story!)

Now, I am devouring his latest book, In the Best Interest of Students. The print book will come a bit later, but I'm reading the ebook now. Again, I am wowed by his educational pedagogy that is right on the money. I especially love the way he breaks down what the text says, what the text does and what the text means. I appreciate the lengthy section devoted to sharpening speaking and listening skills, which is a huge focus in my classroom. Also, I love the overall idea that we must stay true to what is best for our students, no matter how strong the pull is away from that.

Although he is preaching to the choir in my case, his words bear repeating to the masses. There's something about the wisdom of Kelly Gallagher that rekindles the belief in my teaching methods. I don't over teach a novel because of him. I move beyond the four corners of a text because of him. I teach students that you get better at reading by writing, and better at writing by reading because of him. I teach the Six Real-World Writing Purposes because of him. My students are the lucky benefactors of Kelly Gallagher's wisdom, but I am the lucky vessel through which they experience it.

Go now. Run. Get your copy of In the Best Interest of Students. You won't regret it!