Monday, October 25, 2010

Creating Community Via VoiceThread

All students who enter the classroom come as members of families, neighborhoods, religious groups, sports teams, clubs, and organizations--each of which is a community of practice. Communities of practice are places where human beings develop competence through their interactions with each other. Through these interactions, we define our identities. Classrooms are also communities of practice where each student possesses unique knowledge and perspective that pushes the thinking of every other student.

Elementary school teachers have many and varied opportunities to get to know their students on an individual basis--who they are as members of families, neighborhoods, religious groups, sports teams, clubs, and organizations--that will influence the instructional decisions, conversations, text selections, teaching points, and connections they make throughout the year. Middle and high school teachers have less time with their students, but still usually see them on a daily basis over a semester or school year. However, the need to know students' unique knowledge and perspectives doesn't stop upon graduation from high school. The instruction of college professors also benefits immensely from this knowledge.

I teach reading/language arts methods courses to graduate students who are becoming elementary teachers. These preservice teachers bring a wealth of knowledge, experiences, and perspectives to our classroom. However, time and opportunity to get to know each other is not on our side. We meet twice a week for a few hours and in that time we have to learn "everything-there-is-to-know-about-reading-instruction" in one short semester. Yet, if I do not take the time to get to know them and if they do not really know each other, there is little chance that we will develop a community of practice in which we are able to make the deep and meaningful connections necessary to push each others' thinking.

This is where technology can play an important role. At the beginning of the year, I asked my preservice teachers to each create a VoiceThread in which they told me and their classmates about themselves.  "A VoiceThread is a collaborative, multimedia slide show that holds images, documents, and videos and allows people to navigate slides and leave comments in 5 ways - using voice (with a mic or telephone), text, audio file, or video (via a webcam)" which can be shared with other students and colleagues for them to record comments, too (from the VoiceThread website). After creating their VoiceThreads, the students also commented on their classmates' VoiceThreads.

After watching all of the VoiceThreads (26), I now know my students in ways I would have never discovered through our brief conversations/interactions in class. I laughed and cried with them, jumped for joy and despaired with them, celebrated, commiserated, and connected with them all. They are brilliant and passionate. Many are athletic, musical and very well traveled. But, the one thing that stood out--that matters most over all else--is their love and thankfulness for family and friends.

VoiceThread allowed me to take a brief look into my students' lives in a way that otherwise would not have been possible, which will make a difference in my teaching and in my students' interactions with each other.

Two of my students gave permission to post the links to their VoiceThreads as examples. Christine shares her wealth of experiences in China and with teaching preschoolers, as well as her loving family. Kristopher (Topher) shares the people in his life who have made him who he is today. I thank both of these amazing preservice teachers for their willingness to share their stories with others, and if you take the time to view them, you will too.

VoiceThread is free for K-12 educators and can be used by teachers at all grade levels to get to know their students. At the elementary level, parents/caregivers can create narrated slide shows with their children. At the middle and high school level, students can create their own or in collaboration with parents/caregivers.

VoiceThread can be used in many other ways, too. You can explore the possibilities for using VoiceThread here.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Joy of Children's Literature: Second Edition!!

Announcing the release of the second edition of
The Joy of Children's Literature

Isn't the new cover exquisite! There is also a new foreword written by Esme Codell, for which I am very honored. The second edition has many new and updated features and new technology resources!

To read a detailed description of The Joy of Children's Literature, 2nd edition, and to order a copy, click here.

You may also visit my new website for information and access to many of the technology resources:

Please send me your feedback!

Skyping Across Boundaries: Part II

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post, Skyping Across Boundaries: Part I, in which I discuss a partnership between the preservice elementary teachers in my reading/language arts methods course and Amy Moser's fourth grade classroom around the book Spilling Ink by Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter. During that post, I reported on the Skype session my class conducted with Mrs. Moser prior to the beginning of school in preparation for our blog buddies project.

Today, I am reporting on the second Skype session my class conducted with Mrs. Moser's fourth graders in which the blog buddies "met" each other. Mrs. Moser and I met in advance and paired up the students into blog buddies and I distributed the list to the preservice teachers in class.

On the day of the Skype visit, each of the preservice teachers stood and introduced them self to Mrs. Moser's class and announced the name of his/her blog buddy. When the fourth grader's name was called, s/he stood up. In this way, the two buddies "met" each other via Skype.

Preservice teachers viewing the Skype session with their fourth grade buddies.

These pictures are certainly not the greatest in the world, but you get the idea.

Close up of screen showing Mrs. Moser's fourth graders viewing the Skype session.
Both classes had read the first two sections of Spilling Ink prior to the Skype session and Mrs. Moser told the preservice teachers about the contract she created with her students shown on page 7.

This was an exciting day! Both groups seems to be thrilled to be participating in the project and ready to get started blogging.

The fourth graders' blog, Spilling Our Ink, is finally up and running. Mrs. Moser chose to create the blog using Blogger because of its ease of use. Her previous experience using a blog on E-pals was difficult to use at best. However, getting permission to use Blogger was a long battle with the school/district's technology resource people. Like many schools across the country, Blogger is blocked by the district. Though Mrs. Moser asked and received permission to create a private blog for her students using Blogger, it took many frustrating weeks to finally get it cleared. The public often accuses schools of lagging far behind the rest of the world in the use of technology, but it is easy to see from all that Mrs. Moser went through, why teachers throw up their hands in frustration or never even try in the first place.

Last Friday, the fourth graders posted their first response to the "I Dare You" prompt in Spilling Ink on page 52. Hopefully, some time in the future, we can make the blog available to everyone so you can see the amazing writing of the blogging buddies.

If any of my students are reading this, leave a comment if you would like to share your thoughts on meeting your buddies via Skype or anything else about the project.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Skyping Across Boundaries: Part 1

Some of you may have read a few of my earlier posts in which I went on and on about the new School of Education building in which I now teach with the latest and greatest technology.You may have also read a post in which I discussed the virtual author visits via Skype that two of the teachers in my children's literature course conducted in the spring. Now, these two things have come together in powerful ways to provide experiences for the preservice teachers in my reading/language arts methods courses.

Amy Moser, the fourth grade teacher who conducted the virtual author visit with Ellen Potter (Spilling Ink), and I are pairing up our students into blog buddies! Her fourth graders and my preservice teachers will both be reading Spilling Ink and blogging about the "I Dare You" prompts in the book. Once they have written their individual blog posts, they will comment on their blog buddy's response.

Before we started the project, I wanted the preservice teachers to meet Mrs. Moser and hear her talk about her students, the author visit last year, and the new project this year. Since the university semester started before the public school year, I was able to connect my students with Mrs. Moser via Skype right from our classroom.

               I know these aren't great pictures, but I think it gives you an idea. Mrs. Moser introduced herself, gave the preservice teachers information about her background and teaching, and showed them her classroom set up.

Since the preservice teachers had not been assigned a practicum placement yet, they were getting insight into what goes on before school starts to set up a classroom.

Next, we will have the buddies meet via Skype. We have tried to do this twice, but had to cancel the first time because school was delayed due to the weather and the second time due to connection problems on the elementary school's end. These are things that happen and teachers have to learn to be flexible.

I will post again when the blog buddies meet via Skype. In the mean time, Mrs. Moser has set up a blog on which her students will post their responses to the "I Dare You" prompts from Spilling Ink. The blog is titled, "Spilling Our Ink."

On November 30th, the fourth graders will come to campus to meet their preservice teacher blog buddies and both groups will experience a virtual author visit with Ellen Potter who has graciously agreed to Skype with us again. Thank you, Ellen!

If you are planning to attend the NCTE annual convention in Orlando in November, please attend our session, "F17: Virtual Author Visits: The Good, the Bad, and the Awesome!" scheduled for Saturday morning, Nov.20th from 8:00 to 9:15 int he Coronado Ballroom S. Author Kate Messner will present her experiences with virtual author visits, author Ellen Potter will present with Amy Moser, the fourth grade teacher with whom she skyped, and author/illustrator LeUyen Pham will present with Leslie Panaro, the first grade teacher with whom she skyped. It is going to be an amazing session with videos from the skype visits and lots of information on how to conduct your own skype visit.

P.S.: If any of my students are reading this, post your comments on the skype visit with Mrs. Moser!