Sunday, February 17, 2008

More Podcasting for the Classroom

With podcasting on the brain lately, stumbled upon The Blog of Ms. Mercer (recommended by Scott McLeod's blog) with more good ideas about podcasting in literacy instruction. Check out the link to her website for examples of student work.

Also, The New York Times today had a piece about online resources for language learning, featuring,, and

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Podcasting 101

Today I observed a 6th grade Digital Communications class doing some really exciting work with new media, and finally got to see classroom podcasting in action. Turns out, podcasting is 100x easier than I thought, and the applications for literacy instruction are pretty amazing.

Here's how this unit was structured over several weeks:

Students started by exploring the different layers of information on Google Earth to find 3 places they wanted to travel to, each on a different continent. Then they selected two landmarks from each place, and compiled the facts they found into a travel guide.

Working in small groups the students then wrote a script for a travel show about these three places, incorporating the information they had researched, using a wiki to facilitate collaboration.

To present their research, the groups then used their scripts to create 3 minute podcasts using audacity open source software. They were revising, practicing for fluency, collaborating, all the while completely engaged in their work. I was truly surprised to see how sophisticated the editing is that students can do using audacity - they were deleting big pauses, rearranging text, overlaying music, and adjusting special effects.

I've been planning to volunteer as a reading tutor, but was so excited about all this that I emailed the youth center today and offered to work with their students on blogs and podcasting instead.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Caught Off-Guard by the Digital Divide

I started the week thinking about yesterday's editorial in the Washington Post about a school that's "too high on gizmos." If you haven't read it yet, the editorial criticizes the Alexandria school district for purchasing new technology without first considering what tools are truly needed to improve student learning.

The problem? What a former Alexandria school superintendent calls "technolust" -- a disorder affecting publicity-obsessed school administrators nationwide that manifests itself in an insatiable need to acquire the latest, fastest, most exotic computer gadgets, whether teachers and students need them or want them. Technolust is in its advanced stages at T.C., where our administrators have made such a fetish of technology that some of my colleagues are referring to us as "Gizmo High."

(Found this article linked from Weblogg-ed and SSI K-12.)
Later that day, I interviewed someone who teaches in the Baltimore public schools. When I asked her to describe the technology situation at her school, she said that her school just recently got a Xerox machine, and that they have overhead projectors but no pull down screens. She then said that they have about one computer for every ten classrooms.

This is ridiculous. How is this the state of things? At work we spend so much time talking about SmartBoards, Web 2.0, curriculum software and technology integration it's easy to forget some times that in some schools, getting a copy machine is a technological leap forward.

Obviously just throwing money at the problem is not the answer, as the Alexandria school demonstrates. In addition to funding, districts need to be aware of what possibilities and opportunities exist so they can create a clear vision for how they want technology to support instruction. But that's easier said than done. I wonder how representative this teacher's school is of the state of technology in her district, how many districts are in similar situations, and how can we do a better job reaching out to these districts?

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Spiral Curriculum

Found this in the comments in response to Dangerously Irrelevant's recent post on scripted curriculum.

In contrast, a spiral curriculum begins with the assumption that children are not always ready to learn something. Readiness to learn is at the core of a spiral curriculum. And instead of focusing for relatively long periods of time on some narrow topic whose time has come, a spiral curriculum tries to expose students to a wide varies of ideas over and over ago... A spiral curriculum, by moving in a circular pattern from topic to topic within field like, say, math, seeks to catch kids when they first become ready to learn something and pick up the other kids, the ones not ready to learn yet, later - the next time we spiral around to that topic.

This was one of the biggest transitions when I started using Open Court. Initially I was bothered by how objectives would appear once in a lesson and then not again for weeks, but as the year went on I came to see the benefits of the gradual "spiral" of skills. The students benefited from being exposed to the same objectives periodically: those who were not ready to master something on the first time around were exposed to the material again and again in different ways, and there was the opportunity to deepen the understanding of students who did catch it the first time. I'm curious to what extent the spiral curriculum model is used in other reading curriculum models besides the very prescribed/semi-scripted approach.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Study on the Effectiveness of After-School Reading Instruction

After-school programs can improve participants’ literacy by providing intensive lessons several times a week and establishing strong bonds between instructors and participants, concludes a two-year studyRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader by New York City-based Public/Private Ventures, a public-policy-research organization.
Check out the link here to read the findings on best practices for after-school literacy instruction.

Conflicting Feelings on Scripted Curriculum

Check out today's post on Dangerously Irrelevant here.

We’ve used our new, scripted reading curriculum (I won’t mention the company) since the start of this school year. Personally, I think it’s a step forward from the past. It provides a degree of continuity in an environment where a significant number of our kids are transient and move every few months to another school in the county. It provides some level of assurance that we are actually implementing recent research in our reading classrooms. For example, it scripts in tasks for building background knowledge related to a story – an essential (but sometimes overlooked) component of comprehension. It provides shared tools for monitoring student progress. It provides a measure of quality control.

I agree with many of these points. In general, even though every student and every classroom is unique, which each teacher bringing her or her own expertise to instruction, there has been so much research on what works that it makes sense to consolidate that somehow so that best practices are implemented consistently in a district. Using Open Court last year, I appreciated how objectives were built upon gradually and repeated through the year, and how comprehensively it covered areas that I wouldn't otherwise have done justice to. Also, our teaching staff was very young and inexperienced (average years of teaching experience: 0.8) and I think that amount of structure was a good support.

Yet, I missed the flexibility of the workshop curriculum I used while in Teach For America. I missed being able to choose books for students based on their interests, and forming reading groups around their interests. I never got it together well enough with Open Court to figure out how to bring those aspects of workshop into the scripted curriculum.

What does the research say on this? Does research support one type of curriculum over another, or are there too many variables? How does a district decide which approach to favor, especially with the pressures of NCLB? More on this in the coming weeks after I do some more background reading. Let me know if you have any suggested resources to look at.

Monday, February 4, 2008

February is Cleveland Reads Month

Cleveland Reads, the Greater Cleveland Literacy Coalition and a division of the United Way, received a Mayoral Proclamation declaring the month of February as “Cleveland Reads Month.”

This is a great time to learn more about what Cleveland Reads does here and ways to volunteer here (I still need to figure out how to insert hyperlinks.)

Cleveland Reads not only places volunteers with agencies that need tutors, they also provide training and ongoing support. I've been meaning to call them myself in the new year to get involved again in teaching reading - I'll let you know how that turns out.

What other resources do you know of to volunteer for literacy (or education in general) in Cleveland? Post your ideas in the comments!

Professional Development for 21st Century Literacies

Blogging from the eTech Ohio Conference. Today I gave a presentation with two of my colleagues on "Assessment, Value-Added, and Web 2.0: Putting it all Together."

Our message was that in today's educational environment of NCLB and the value-added roll-out in Ohio, along with the demands of preparing students with 21st century literacy skills, schools need professional development that is embedded into instruction and provides for the creation of professional learning communities.

I'm finding it super exciting to be involved in professional development for schools, and am looking forward to many of the sessions being held tomorrow.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Free-Reading: Literacy Instruction Resources for Teachers

I recently learned about this website from a friend; looks like a great example of how Web 2.0 tools can enhance teacher collaboration. The summary from the site is below. Visit the website at

Free-Reading is an ongoing, collaborative, teacher-based, curriculum-sharing project. We're looking to provide a reliable forum where teachers can openly and freely share their successful and effective methods for teaching reading in grades K-1 and for at-risk students in later grades.

Our premises are:

  • The research on how students learn to read is well-established.
  • The research on which instructional techniques work is well-understood.
  • The voices of those who know what works best -- the classroom teachers -- are rarely heard in instructional design.
  • The power of "we" is far greater than the power of "you" or "I."

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Should we have national standards?

Plan Would Nationalize Schools to End Disparities

Matt Miller has a radical but simple proposal to improve the nation's public schools: federalize funding to eliminate disparities in per-pupil funding between poor and affluent communities. He also proposes a single set of federal standards for math, science and reading, instead of letting each state set its own standards. Scott Simon speaks with Miller, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

I'm on board with the single set of standards - I think it would improve the likelihood of curriculum materials being truly aligned to the standards teachers need to teach, instead of being aligned to big states like Texas and California with superficial adjustments made for other state editions. I also think with the national testing requirements of NCLB it's redundant for each state to spend money to create its own assessments.