Monday, November 19, 2012

Over + Explain Everything= Powerful Writing Practice

It's always been an interest of mine to help my students develop their writing voices. While many of my 4th graders seem to learn from the fabulous authors they read, others struggle to transfer their strong vocabulary and oral language skills to their writing. I've been playing with the app, Over, as a way to use images to generate vivid sentences. 

Using Over, students can select an image already provided, use one of their own, or choose a Creative Commons image to use as a prompt for writing rich and vivid sentence. The image below was one of the images in Over's image bank. I added the text, choosing the font and color, as well as the alignment to emphasize my words.

 Here are the steps to a fun lesson using this app along with Explain Everything, a screencasting app.

First, students use an image to brainstorm verbs. Of course you can use this idea with any part of speech. I chose verbs since my students seem to get in a rut with verb use. 

Second, students brainstorm modifiers for those verbs. These can be adverbs and/or phrases. 

Finally, students can add vivid adjectives and play with creative sentences using Explain Everything to record themselves saying the sentences aloud. This takes some of the burden off always having to write, giving students who might have big creative ideas but who struggle with producing their ideas, an opportunity to further refine and develop their voices. It also gets students in the habit of reading their writing aloud to hear its powerful cadence.

Here are some sentences I might use to model for my students:
I plunged fearlessly into the sparkling frigid water.
Do you float easily or plunge like an anchor to the bottom of the deep lake?
I floated effortlessly as my friends frolicked in the cool clear water. 

How do you use visual literacy to inspire your young writers? I would love to hear your great ideas! 

Friday, November 16, 2012

I May Not Blog Often, But I Try..

I've been hearing a lot of noise in my Twitter stream about teachers blogging.
"Teachers really should blog more."
"They need to share the great learning going on in their classrooms."
"They need to comment on others' blogs." 
"They need to connect more!"

I even hear my own voice whispering those very things and eventually the roar: 

Why haven't you posted in over a month? 
At blogger awards times and such, people often step it up, eager to be recognized by their esteemed peers. There's nothing wrong with wanting a bit of recognition in a field where much of the attention given to us is critical.

But I blog for other reasons.  Yes, I am human and the attention can feel nice, but actually, I blog when I have a hope that my story will inspire, or energize, or simply help a teacher who is just downright exhausted and ready to throw in the towel. Maybe I will be that glimmer of hope. OK, so what's the issue then?

I don't know about you, but when I go through a blogging drought, I find myself wondering. Why don't I write more about my students and what we are doing? Here are a few of the reasons, though some might just view them as "excuses."

  • Blogging takes quite a bit of time when done to a standard I am comfortable with. A great deal of my teacher time is dedicated to planning, learning, working with students, and giving meaningful feedback. The time left is reserved for recharging, refueling, and this year, in particular, a heartfelt commitment to exercise and health. I really am in awe of those who are with students every day and still have time to blog several times a week. 
  • I blog several times per week on a class blog for my parent community, sharing what we are learning. This is a private blog, per my school's policy about photos, etc.This writing takes a good deal of time, and often I simply have nothing much left in me.
  • My students blog! This is fabulous, and I really enjoy sharing their blogs with others. Leaving quality comments and moderating posts and comments is wonderful, yet takes time as well.
  • Confidentiality is so important. Writing a story about the classroom, without going into detail describing students, their actions, comments, etc, is very tricky! When I blog I must be careful that no one knows who I am really writing about. This is a challenge, especially in a small school community. 
  • Teachers are in the spotlight. When I blog, I can't help but feel a need to convey honesty with twist of strength and confidence. Yes, we can share our vulnerabilities with our trusted peers, but frankly, we can put ourselves under intense scrutiny if we write openly about challenges with students. Maybe I am just too careful in this arena, but I have witnessed the diminished credibility of a colleague who was honest and revealed her struggles.
  • Blogging is lower on my current priorities list. Being completely present with students day in and day out is my main agenda. Connecting and collaborating with other educators on Twitter is another big priority.
Don't get me wrong! I want and hope to find a way to write more regularly. I have the utmost respect for teacher bloggers who seem to blog often. Perhaps I even have a bit of "blogger envy."  I would love to know if I have touched a familiar nerve in anyone out there or if they have advice for some of the challenges I mentioned.