Monthly Archives: May 2009

Poetry Everywhere



PBS online has a new website (new to me) up called Poetry Everywhere

There are 34 animated films made by students working with docUWM, a documentary media center at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and the University’s creative writing program, in association with the Poetry Foundation.


As a perk, they also have teacher resources for the poems/poets.


Teaching Students to Read and Write Well, Part 1

diligent      What makes one school’s reading/writing program more successful than another school? What makes the difference? Researchers at the National Research Center on English Learning and Achievement (CELA) examine student achievement in reading, writing, and other important literacy skills in classrooms across the country. One of the studies has been looking at English programs in two sets of middle and high schools with similar student populations. Most of the schools in the study serve students from high poverty, big city neighborhoods. One set of schools “beat the odds” and outperformed their peers on high stakes, standardized tests, and the other set of schools performed more typically.

Based on their findings, the group came up with six features of instruction that make a difference in student performance. These six features are interrelated and supportive of one another. The higher performing schools exhibit all six characteristics. They caution that although addressing one feature may bring about improved student performance, it is the integration of all the features that will effect the most improvement.

 Finding 1: Students learn skills and knowledge in multiple lesson types

What does that mean?

Teachers use a variety of different teaching approaches based on student need. If students need to learn a particular skill, item, or rule, for example, the teacher might choose to step away from the curriculum in a separated activity in order to introduce the information as an independent lesson, exercise or drill. (e.g., they might be asked to copy definitions of literary terms into their notebooks and to memorize them)

To give students practice, teachers prepare a simulated activity that asks students to apply concepts and rules within a targeted unit of reading, writing, or oral language. They learn their skill at their instructional level so that the focus is on learning the skill without the possible hindrance of the content of the material. (For example, students can identify examples of literary devices within a particular selection, or write their own examples of these devices.)

To help students bring together their skills and knowledge within the context of a purposeful activity, teachers use integrated activities. These require students to use their skills or knowledge to complete a task or project that has meaning for them. (For example, in discussing a work of literature, students might be asked to consider how a writer’s use of literary devices affects a reader’s response to the piece).

All three approaches, separated, simulated and integrated, should be used or teachers are missing opportunities to strengthen instruction and to integrate it across lessons throughout the year.
Some activities that work:

  • offering separated and simulated activities to individuals, groups, or the entire class as needed
  • providing overt, targeted instruction and review as models for peer and self-evaluation
  • teaching skills, mechanics, or vocabulary that can be used during integrated activities such as literature discussions
  • using all three kinds of instruction to scaffold ways to think and discuss (e.g. summarizing, justifying answers, and making connections)

What doesn’t work:

  • reliance on any one approach to the exclusion of the other two
  • focus on separated and/or simulated activities with no integration with the larger goals of the curriculum

Classroom example:

At Reuben Dario Middle School in Florida, Gail Slatko uses all three approaches to empower her students to be better readers, writers, and editors. She teaches vocabulary skills within the context of literature and writing, but she also asks students to complete practice workbook exercises designed to inrease their vocabularies. They also create “living dictionaries” by collecting new words as they come across them in books, magazines, and newspapers.

Tips for Summer


Learning doesn’t stop on the last day of school. Encourage your child to continue reading, writing and thinking all year long. Besides the list of ways to get and keep your teen reading (in the May newsletter), here are some other resources:

Around the web:

  • NASA has an interactive website for science buffs.
  • Explore the world with Smithsonian. Their on-line resources will take you around the world.
  • Tour the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.
  • Be immersed in art.  SmArtHistory is an award-winning website that functions like an art history book. Search by theme, style or artist, then listen to an audio discussion of the work.

Around town:

  • Go to the library – This link will take you to the public library site where you can get audiobooks, e-books, and information on special programs as well as location and hours for your local library. The Hawaii Public Library also has summer reading programs for kids, teens and adult. Visit Mark Kishaba, young adult librarian for the Hilo Public Library.
  • Participate in community service, gain self-confidence and self-esteem. Youth Service America offers the following tips: 100_ways_to_make_difference.pdf

Multigenre projects

109039319_60a76e514b_m.jpg I’ve been able to go into two classrooms this week where the teachers are assigning multigenre types of research projects for the end of the year. Multigenre, loosely defined, means many types of different writing. Although all the projects start with writing, though, the projects should be a more complex, multilayered, multivoiced blend of genres.

In doing multigenre research, students don’t necessarily focus on the same content material, but multigenre research allows students to

  • learn how to conduct research in search of answers to questions that they pose
  • learn to self-evaluate by monitoring their own progress and set goals for themselves throughout the unit
  • practice using technology skills in a variety of ways
  • develop thinking and problem-solving skills by delving further into a topic that they are already familiar with or are interested in learning more about
  • learn organizational skills
  • learn the skills needed to collaborate

The outcomes of multigenre projects are ideals, and not all students will get the same satisfaction, or rigor out of their project, but teachers can keep several things in mind in order to keep their sanity. First, choose topics that students are interested in, or topics that have validity and usefulness for them. Second, have a clear rubric, but also allow flexibility. Don’t get upset if someone wants to do something that is not on your extensive list of options. Their passion for making iMovies could expand your list of options. Make sure students are balancing exploration with mastery. If the MLA format is important for all research, then have them practice until they show they can master it.  If you are not as picky about the elements of a poem, then let them go wild.

If you’re interested in learning more about multigenre projects, let me know. I have some resources for you.

Teaching Digital Natives

Are you as a teacher comfortable with tech? Do you think that your prowess with e-mail makes you a techie? Do you text, twitter, IM? Are you on Facebook, MySpace? Do you collaborate with Google Docs, organize your information on Evernote, delicious, Photobucket or flickr? Do you blog? Use a smartboard? Upload your class presentations from your flip camera to YouTube, or TeacherTube? Create short videos with iMovie or animoto? What does your avatar look like? Do you use audacity or garage band to record performances?

If you at least know what these tools are, then you are well on your way to understanding the digital natives that are sitting in your classroom.

Who are they? According to John Palfrey, author of Born Digital, digital natives:

  1. were born after 1980
  2.  have access to technology and are networked
  3. have the skills to use these technologies.

Three myths about digital natives

  • Digital natives are a generation – digital natives can cross generations.
  • Digital natives are more likely to be in danger –
    • young people need guidance from their parents and teachers to navigate the digital landscape and learn to protect their personal information
    • digital or not, it’s sometimes hard for young people to make rational decisions, so they need adult mentors
    • help young people engage in life online in constructive ways, grounding them in common sense
    • provide opportunities for them to go online in a safe, secured environment first
  • Digital natives are less intelligent and less informed – (the “dumbest generation” premis) – The truth is that they learn/interact differently. The challenge for educators is to help them make sense of these new contexts and think synthetically and critically, rather than letting them lose their way.