Friday, April 24, 2015

Taming Twitter

There is so much cool teaching stuff out there in Web-land! The problem is, I can fall through the rabbit hole and get lost in there.

Best online find of the week: edible DNA molecule model!

Yesterday my husband left me in Barnes and Noble with my laptop. When he returned an hour later, he asked what I’d been doing. “Twitter,” I replied. “The whole time?!” He was aghast. It didn’t seem all that incredible to me: there were at least 5 interesting articles and a new book, the first chapter of which I could access, recommended by key people and organizations I follow. I hadn’t even gotten to my second group! But the problem is, I just don’t have 2 hours a day to browse Twitter. And then there’s Pinterest….

So how can I capitalize on the opportunity without getting swallowed by it? It’s still a work in progress, but here’s what I helps me: 

First, remembering why I’m on Twitter—to help my students learn better and to be continually growing myself as a practitioner of my discipline and as a teacher.

Second, having specific goals, such as a…
  • Time goal: I’m going to spend 15 minutes every afternoon from 4:45 to 5:00. (I might need to set an alarm, or dinner will never get made.) 
  • Task goal: I’m going to retweet at least 1 item. (Sometimes I find way more, sometimes this goal pushes me to skim for an arresting topic as I near the end of my time limit. But I’m realizing the importance of not just drinking anonymously from the stream of ideas, but also of contributing something. And what a thrill it is to join
  • Result goal: I’m looking especially for ideas on YA lit recommendations and on disciplinary literacies. Aligning this with an annual growth goal might be effective. This helps me not get distracted (oh, look, another C.S. Lewis joke) and increases the probability I will accomplish the biggest goal—raising my students’ learning.
Keeping in mind these 2 things, I took action this week:
  • First, I created Twitter lists (reading/writing & education in general) so I can be sure I see in a limited time resources from individuals and organizations I find most helpful.
  • And second, I explored chat (#NCTEchat). The chat was Sunday night, and I didn’t get to it until Tuesday, but this way I could scroll through the comments, get an idea of how it works, have time to follow the links that looked interesting, and not feel like I needed to hang around for the whole chat. The chat topic wasn’t high on my goal list (I need to be wiser there), but I did glean a cool math activity (percentages of myself poem) and a gorgeous new favorite poem and poet (“Forgetfulness” by Billy Collins). (Other chats I’m interested in #satchat, #edchat, and #engchat. Find one you’re interested in here.) Eventually I’ll have to become a contributor, not just a lurker, but I’m giving myself some time on that one.
For more information on using Twitter for professional development, read this blog. It’s the blog I would have written if I had just a little more experience and knowledge—it contains both what I’ve learned and what I want to learn.

How about you—what pitfalls, tricks, and triumphs have you found using Twitter?

Friday, April 17, 2015

Learn to Manage Online Professional Development Resources

Great Pinterest find of the week! Pinned it to my English board. (Source:

The problem is not a dearth of free professional development ideas on the Internet, but rather how to select, organize, and manage the ocean of material that is available (see previous post). It’s rather like trying to drink from a fire hydrant—in the midst of overwhelming abundance, all you end up with is wet clothes and a bad hair day. When my husband and I set out to attempt this, we knew we’d need some sort of goal, criteria, and organizing principles. Here’s what we did:

Set a goal: To increase student learning about God’s world and God’s Word by providing resources (via Pinterest) that support teacher growth at the individual, group, and schoolwide levels. 

Set criteria: We decided that we wanted resources that would help teachers grow, get empowered, use best practice, focus, and build community. To this end, we looked for…
  • A variety of sources, such as national organizations, blogs, Twitter accounts, websites, webinars, and Pinterest boards. 
  • 5 topics in particular: assessment, instruction, Biblical perspective, curriculum development, and technology for learning. 
We ended up with 3 types of boards: 

This last is truly the one board to rule them all. We went around and around before we ended up with the idea of this “master” educational practice board. Should we pin identical the contents separately on each subject board? We don’t want to give a subject area teacher the impression that he or she doesn’t need to know about differentiation or Understanding by Design. But we also don’t want to give the impression that a subject area board is overwhelmingly general, with little help targeted directly at math or industrial arts. 

So this board is a monster—boards pinned within boards! Technology for Learning, Grow: Webinars/Online Classes, Teach Biblical Perspective, Assess, Instruct, Work Smarter Not Harder, and Develop Curriculum are all boards pinned within this board, along with individual resources such as a link to a list of times and dates for regularly scheduled Twitter chats on education related subjects and a blog listing 53 formative assessments.

It's been a very recursive process with a lot of discussion and revision. And I'm sure there's more in the future. 

Now I have to go back to the Teach Better board I started with and decide how to reorganize it. Some of its pins I’ve already moved to the English board or to topical boards. Can I move all of them there? Or do I need to create more “English” boards—reading, listening, writing, speaking, and then maybe a catch-all for language in general, from word play to the fascinating history of the English language. I’ve found some great literature-specific ideas (like paired non-fiction texts) on other people’s grade-specific sites. Should I have a course-specific board? And some of the reading, listening, writing, speaking ideas are in no way limited to English class! Having long been a fan of reading/writing across the curriculum, I’m just beginning to learn about disciplinary literacy (stay tuned for future blogs…). Should that be a whole separate board? Anyway, you see the complications….

As I said, a dearth of free professional development ideas on the Internet is not the problem; how to select, organize, and manage the ocean of material that is available, is.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Online PD Resources: Puddle or Ocean?

I went to Pinterest intending to stick a toe in the water, and I ended up nearly drowning. 
Here’s my story: 

Exploring Pinterest and Twitter for the purpose of professional development was one of my goals for this year. I was wondering how much growth and networking would be possible for free in the virtual world. A lot, as it turns out.

I thought Pinterest might be a good place for a “stacker” like me (I stack things; my husband files things) to store handy things I might want to share with others use in the future. I started out with a board of books that have been formative for me as a teacher. (Because I’d gotten good ideas from someone else’s board like that; because people ask me for recommendations, and I can’t remember all the possibilities on the spot.) 

Along the way, I started a couple of other personal interest boards. One is on Japanhaving lived in Tokyo for 28 years and now moving to Okinawa—the best books I’ve read on Japan, and ones I’m finding on Okinawa, along with language tidbits to keep me growing in that area. The other one is on websites where I can buy cool stuff from companies that are doing social good.

I enjoy sharing articles I come across (while scanning Facebook or a newsletters) with colleagues who teach different subjects. But I found myself forgetting where I’d found them—I needed a collection on the spot. So, I started a Pinterest board for math, where I pinned things like 11 TED talks about life applications of math and a list of 44 things mathematicians do.

From there the project just sort of exploded. My husband—who I’d gotten on Pinterest in the first place—thought we should make a board for more subjects—art, computer, social studies, science.… I was intrigued—a place to park all the interesting things I come across. He, being a filer, was thinking of something slightly more organized. 

I was willing to collaborate because my teaching board was beginning to get unwieldy—between the general education topics, English teaching, and my course-specific ideas, even I was sensing that I would lose stuff in the piles. And it’s great stuff—too good to lose.  Stuff that will help me help my students learn more about God’s world and God’s Word. And if it helps me and my students, would it help anyone else? We’d never know if we didn’t try!

So we came up with a plan and some criteria, and we did some research. Along the way, I learned that the Internet is absolutely awash in professional development. I had no idea that the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE—of which I’ve been a member for many years) already has its own Pinterest board, available even to non-members. How many other national teacher organizations are there? How many of them already have loads of free stuff available? (Answer to both questions: Many.) Additional types of material we found were blogs (Edutopia), Twitter accounts (NCTM), websites (What If Learning), and webinars (ASCD).

As I said, I went to Pinterest intending to stick a toe in the water, and I ended up nearly drowning. The question I’m thinking about now is “How can I select, organize, and manage resources out of the ocean of free professional development material online?” I’m experimenting with some answers to that question (more on that in a  future blog). 

In the meantime, I’d really love to hear from you: 
  • What kinds of (free) online professional development material have you found particularly helpful? 
  • How do you organize it? 
  • How do you implement it? 
  • How does it help you and your students? 
  • What kinds of access, organization, and implementation tools and strategies would help you and your students even more?

Together, we can help each other stick our toes in, avoid drowning, and start swimming.

Found on Facebook, saved on Pinterest--an enduring understanding for next year's AP English Language class

Monday, April 6, 2015

Getting a Kid to Read: FAQs

Where did you get the books you read as a child?

“How can I get a child to read?” In the last 6 months I’ve been in a number of conversations on this topic—whether the child in question was the person’s own, a grandchild, or a student. Here are some of the questions people ask and some of the answers I've given: 
(1) How do I help a child become a reader?
  • Be a reader. As Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see.” Model doing it. Enjoying it. Talking about it. 
  • Be interested in the child’s reading life. Ask questions. What has she read lately? What if she says, “Nothing. I hate reading”? See #2. If she names something, read it yourself. It will give you an idea of other books she might like, expand your reading horizons, and give you a topic of conversation. Then talk about it. What did she like? Why? How did it connect to anything else she’s read, seen, heard about, experienced? What did you like about it? What if it’s a book you don’t care to read? This might actually be a good portion of the child’s life—reading things she doesn’t want to. Enter her world in this experience as well as figuring out why the book appealed to her and how you might expand her tastes from there. And once you’ve talked about her reading, you might have the social capital for the next step.  
  • Share your reading. This doesn’t mean you have to read Crime and Punishment to set a literary example—or that if you are that kind of reader, you need to give your 5-year-old an hour lecture on it. Comments like the following are enough to nurture the ethos that reading is something we do, and we get something from it: “Did you know that Nigeria is the African country with the biggest population? That’s what Time magazine said.” “I really love how reading can help me understand what’s going on inside a person who’s really different from me.”
  • Allow choice. When was the last time you loved something you had no choice in? See questions #2 and #3.

      (2) What if a child doesn’t like to read?
      • There is no child who does not like to read—the right thing in the right place. A love note from his crush. A hack on his favorite online game. Reframe the problem: Just because a child isn’t an avid reader of literature doesn’t mean he doesn’t like to read. He just hasn’t yet found a book he loves. 
      • What will make a book more likely to be one he loves? It should be within range—he has to understand 98-99% of the words on the page in order to hit that sweet spot. Then there’s interest—look into a variety of genres and topics (see #3). And he might need to build some stamina—no Olympic athlete started with a marathon. How do you find books he might like? See question #4.

      (3) What if a child doesn’t like to read “good” books?
      • It only takes 1 home-run book to transform a reluctant reader into a reader. So don’t scorn Captain Underpants or Twilight if it might be the “gateway drug” into a lifelong addiction to the kind of reading that correlates with higher vocabulary, writing skills, knowledge of the world, intelligence, empathy, and college success.
      • A person who reads “bad” books may someday read “good” books. A person who doesn’t read never will. A person forced to read books he/she is not interested in (think of something you find difficult or uninteresting—IRS form instructions? a computer manual? sports scores?) will just be reinforced in the preconception that reading is difficult and/or dull.
      • Experiment with expanding your definition of “good.” Have you ever tried a graphic novel? YA (young adult) lit? What’s the downside of modeling a willingness to step out of your comfort zone and try something new?
      • If a child is a ravenous streak reader, in my experience she will eventually come to the end of teen cancer romances, realize the predictability of the pattern, and hunger for something different. 

      (4) How do I know what to read/recommend? 

      • Ask teachers, librarians, colleagues. 
      • Check out the children’s or teen section at your local bookstore or library. 
      • Explore websites like where you can find recommendations according to genre. If you want to set up an account, you can get monthly newsletters with personalized recommendations, track the books you’ve read and want to read, find out what your friends on the site are want to read or are reading, and post reviews of the books you’ve read. 
      • Do a web search for a particular topic from “books for boys” to “Latino books” to “world lit.” You’ll find recommended reading lists from schools and libraries, and possibly entire blogs (like and my personal favorite, devoted to the topic.

      Then have fun reading, talking about reading, learning more about the children in your life, expanding your own reading horizons, and sleuthing out just the book to capture that child’s heart. 

      Did you have a home-run book? If so, what was it?