Archive for April, 2010

Playing with Google Search Stories

It’s true, I love to play with new toys and tools on the web.

It just so happens that we spent the week talking about writing with technology in both my classes. So, when I saw the news about Google Search Stories, I had to give it a whirl.

It’s the end of the semester and I’ve been thinking about my students and their next steps.  The Search Story below is inspired by them.

The story took me all of 10 minutes to make and upload.  The search options were interesting. For instance, I knew that I wanted to use the image search for “to bloom,” figuring that it would bring up pictures of cheerful flowers. It was serendipitous to find images of Bloom’s Taxonomy sprinkled in as well, which fit the educational theme.

I feel a tiny twinge of guilt when I realize that this is basically an advertisement for Google, even though it is an ad I can customize to do something creative. But, I balance the guilt by thinking that I also showed the students many tools and sites that aren’t part of Google (at least not yet!)

Here’s the search story post that inspired me to try it, from A Year of Reading.

And here’s a post from TechCrunch that links the original Superbowl ad that started Search Stories as well as some clever parodies.

Take a few minutes to play!


A Selection of Blogs for Reading, Literature, and Writing Teachers

During my first classes of the semester with my preservice teachers, I was upfront: they would not leave my class knowing everything there was to know about literacy education. After their astonishment wore off, I explained that, in my mind, a big part of being a teacher is being an ongoing and insatiable learner. So, I told my students that one of my goals for this semester was to help them develop ways to continue their learning that would last far beyond the semester’s end.

With that in mind, this week I took the plunge and started talking about RSS. All semester I’ve been sharing and using resources that came to me through blogs and twitter, but this week students started developing new spaces and pathways for connecting on their own.

About an hour into my classes, I showed the RSS in Plain English video from Common Craft, then talked through some blogs to start with. Many students were surprised that, as google account holders, they had not known about google reader before. There was some excitement as well as some skepticism, which is to be expected.

The big question for me was, which blogs should I choose?  I follow many literacy-related blogs, but wanted them to start with just a handful. I asked my twitter network for their suggestions a couple of weeks ago, and many in my PLN responded with great ideas. I was also asked to share my lists once they were complete. So, my starter blogs for Language Arts, Kindergarten through 8th grade, are listed below.

Note: This list doesn’t even begin to cover all the great blogs out there.  I chose some blogs that seemed to best reflect the principles of literacy education we’ve discussed this semester. I also included some technology-focused blogs, and blogs by classroom teachers. In class, I talked about how important it is to read blogs that are provocative and even opposed to your own perspective, just to keep you thinking. I need to keep working on this last point.

Writing Workshop by David Stoner

Two Writing Teachers

The Book Whisperer

The English Teacher’s Companion

In For Good

Free Technology for Teachers


Larry Ferlazzo

Grammar Girl

Teri Lesesne – ProfessorNana

The tempered radical

The Reading Zone

A Geekymomma’s Blog

Welcome to NCS-Tech

30 poets 30 days at Gottabook

Raising readers and writers



Miss Rumphius Effect

A year of Reading

We will talk in the next couple of weeks about what learning this way is like, and how it might (or might not) be useful. I’ll share their thoughts soon after.

In the mean time, do you have any other favorites that I missed?

Celebrating Poetry Month

It’s no secret that “I geek poetry” in a big way. I love to read poems. I begin every class I teach by reading a poem.

I also love to write poems, and I have many poems tucked away from my time as a teen, on and off, up to now.

When I take research notes, I take notes in poems.  It is just the way my brain works.  Writing a structured narrative is painfully difficult for me, but poetry flows.  (Not necessarily good poetry, mind you, but poetry nonetheless.)

So, I did have a bit of a spring in my step yesterday as poetry month began.  Seems poems are popping up everywhere.

I was thinking I would try to write a poem a day this month, but I knew I would fall behind and feel frustrated.  So, I’m just going to try to do one poetry-related activity a day – read one, write one, revise one, post one, something. I’m already a day behind (!) so here goes.

This is a poem I wrote in the Spring of 2007 in a poetry pedagogy course taught by the amazing JoBeth Allen.  Early in the semester, JoBeth handed out random buttons and we wrote poems around them. We had many such exercises and inspirations that semester, but this one seemed to stick with me as a challenge.  After many years of avoiding rhyme in my poems, this poem became a place for me to experiment in developing rhymes that weren’t trite or forced.  I’ll let you be the judge of my success. As with most of my writing, it is somewhat loosely based on my life.  I hope this poem makes you smile a bit. Happy poetry month!

The Family Egg Hunt

Every year on Easter day

Be it April, May or March,

“The Gleeson Family Egg Hunt” came

once we got home from church.

But first, the family picture!

Mom would lovingly remind.

“One, two, three!  Smile!  Cheese!”

Now we’ve got eggs to find!

I would shimmy off my tights,

shoes, gloves, and hat were stripped

“on your mark, get set, now go!”

and off we went, full clip.

Crawling under the bushes

in our overgrown backyard,

there always was one or two eggs

that Daddy hid too hard.

Big brother ruffled old dead leaves,

crawled past the spigot drip

“Found It!” he yelled.  “Awwww!” I screamed.

Out poked my bottom lip.

My parents stood relieved as

he reached his left arm out.

One less smelly rotting egg

to later worry about.

He strained and squirmed for every inch

so clumsy in his girth

digging in his size twelve feet

and grabbing at the earth.

He reached and finally “got it!”

Then “POP!” the button flew.

He didn’t have to say what happened –

for we already knew.

“OW!” as the jagged fence edge

scraped his plump arm red.

“?*!@?*!” as the craggy unpruned branch

smacked him on the head.

“Squelch” went his new loafers

swallowed up by mud.

White polyester covered bottom

hit the ground – – THUD!

“His Easter outfit’s RUINED!”

I gasped, so horrified.

“He’d grow out if it anyway”

and smiling, Mommy sighed.

And all this for the trophy

in the corner of the yard.

Daddy should’ve known better than

to hide that egg so hard.

What’s the Big Idea?

It’s been a while since I’ve posted.  I’ve been caught up in evaluating the other group of multigenre projects.  I do have more to share about those, and will post examples soon. But in the mean time, classes have been coming along and I wanted to share a few thoughts about what we’ve been doing.

I can’t believe it is only a month until semester’s end. Even though my two classes come from different programs (elementary and middle grades are separate programs in our college), they are both approaching an “end” of sorts.  For my middle school Language Arts group, they are coming to the end of their main semesters studying literacy. Last semester they studied middle grades literature, and this semester they’ve had content area literacy and my writing pedagogy course. As far as required literacy core courses, that is it. Next semester they are back to spending a lot of time in the schools.

My elementary school class is coming into their last month of coursework before student teaching. They’ve had two courses in reading, my language arts course, and children’s literature.

As you might imagine, these endings, along with the hectic rush of this time in the semester, bring up a lot of emotions in the classes – some of them conflicting.  The students seem excited about the end of the semester, but there is also a palpable weariness. They are overwhelmed by all the different approaches and strategies they’ve learned – this is only compacted by the impending awareness that soon they’ll be implementing many of these ideas daily with students. Even though they are overwhelmed by what they’ve learned, they also seem to feel anxious about not knowing enough. I hear, over and over again, “how am I going to DO all this???”

Through all of these emotions and a fair amount of exhaustion, I try to keep the students learning and thinking. A couple of weeks ago, it felt like the right time to start telescoping back out to try to focus on some of their “big ideas” for literacy teaching.  I was inspired by this post about simplicity at Two Writing Teachers. I invited my students to start trying to think about how they will begin their lives as literacy educators. I asked them: What are the simple principles that form the core of your vision for literacy teaching?  How does the way you plan to organize your time and space reflect that vision?  We’ve worked on timelines, maps, and other exercises to try and get the vision to begin to come together on paper.

One reason for this process of developing a vision is to give them a place to start when they get into their classrooms.  But, I admit, there is another reason, too. Sometimes I worry about the future of these young teachers – so bright and full of energy, ideas, and fire. With class sizes growing, resources disappearing, and, most troubling, the thunder of emphasis on test scores and standards, I fear that what we’ve worked on in our courses will quickly be swallowed, perhaps even smothered by the onslaught of the structure of schooling.  So, we are taking a little time to try to develop their vision. I hope they keep their core principles posted somewhere near their desks, as touchstones to refer to and expand upon as they continue to develop as teachers.

As my students thought and wrote, I also took the time to articulate my vision for literacy classrooms. Of course, it is a work in progress, and has changed a lot this year.  I thought I’d share it here, along with this wonder: what “big ideas” you return to again and again as a teacher?

Beth’s Vision for the Literacy Classroom

My students will know that I care about them.
I will know them and their lives and what matters to them.
I believe that my students have important things to say and I value their voices.
I am committed to helping them find ways to express themselves and their insights in a manner that allows them to be heard and understood by others.
I encourage my students to take risks and make mistakes in my classroom and in the world at large. I believe this is one of the main ways that we learn. I strive to model risk taking, and reflecting, rethinking, redoing, and renewing practice in my role as a teacher/co-learner.
I want my students to love reading and writing (broadly defined) and learning, and to know that engaging in reading, writing, and learning can enable them to grow as teachers and as people.

Beth Friese – 4.1.10

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