DigiLit Sunday: Motivation

Margaret Simon @ Reflections on the Teche suggested the topic of motivation for her Sunday DigiLit Link up.


I’m fascinated by motivation. What creates it. What kills it. I’m a witness to the power of it, and the lack of it.

Motivation is the reason we do.

Motivation is observable.  There are inadvertent sounds that signal engagement a prerequisite to motivation.

The groan that follows the end reading or writing workshop and
the cheer that follows “it’s time for read aloud” are clear indicators of motivation.

And the converse.
The groan that follows the beginning of a workshop and
the cheer follows the recess bell are signs of tired, unmotivated kiddos.

Both scenarios happen in my classroom. They indicate what’s working and what’s missing the mark. It’s up to me to hear them and adjust.

For the less vocal students, I have to listen in other ways. Through their work, their body language; what is done and undone.

“A” hasn’t finished a book in a week.
“B” doesn’t move from that book when the bell rings.
“C” is wandering the room.
“D” wrote more today.

Motivation that lasts through struggle is individual. Accessing it is complex.

We need inspiration.

I read Emmanuel’s Dream, the true story of Emmanuel Yeboah to my kids last week. They were fascinated. He was inspirational, determined, proud, outgoing. And the feeling, if he can do this, surely I can work harder in my world.

We need mentors to show how.
We need goals to measure our success.

My students are working on writing about characters. Thanks to the guidance of DIY Literacy, we created the character charts and micro progression together.  Next week, we’ll attempt bookmarks, using the micro progressions and charts we’ve developed.


Here’s my demonstration bookmark. The test of the charts and their understanding will be in what students create.

Motivation is complex. It takes work and hope. With observation and tools; choice and  inspirational stories we will find a road to access it.

DigiLit Sunday: Function

slide11This week’s DigiLit Sunday topic is “function”. Connect to Margaret Simon’s blog Reflections On the Teche to read more.

I’m wondering, how are my students functioning with technology and how is technology functioning for them.

My students have the opportunity to write on technology. Every day. They have a blog. They connect to other classrooms and each other. They write for themselves and units of study. As they draft on google docs, the concept of revision has become clearer and more doable.  Electronic tools from spell check to research are becoming second nature. Many are taking notes and collaborating with electronic tools. The resistant note takers and writers are using voice to text apps. All students have time to write. Every child. Every day.

I am thrilled. They are writing more. Their writing is improved. They want to write. It’s all good.

But. Wait.

Hold on.

As much as these technology tools liberate my students as researchers and writers, there is a downside, unless we consider technology through the lens of function. We, as readers and writers, need always be asking ourselves: how does this tool help me; is this the best tool for the job.

Friday, we started a researching colonial times. Even though there were books on their tables, students jumped online. They found quick facts, pictures and much more than they could understand, yet. The books sat their in their baskets. Untouched. I knew they held what they needed to start their inquiry into the period.

In the past, I have controlled their access. Book in the beginning. Controlled whole group introduction to videos and websites. Lectures. Then, when their knowledge was stronger and couldn’t find answers to their questions, access to the internet. It worked.

But. Wait.

Hold on.

Students need to learn how and when to use the tools they have, books and the internet. Just like they need to know how to select a book that is just right for them, without me directing them to the correct basket, they need to know what places to go to find research that matches their needs.

So tomorrow, after testing, I’ll call them to the carpet and ask them to consider this:

Researchers,  I want your to think about the tools you need to do your job as a reader and a researcher. Consider a few questions:

Is this the best tool for the job?
What is my question? Did this tool answer it?
Does this tool hold on to my thoughts in a way I can reference it any time?
Can I add to it at any time? Is it limiting?
Is it flexible enough?

Just as we decide if we want to draft on our blog or on google docs; just as we decide if we are going to use post its or our notebook for writing about our reading, we must make decisions as to where and how we research.

As we start today let’s consider the function of our tools and question it. Is this giving me what I need now?

Technology is a powerful tool and resource. When we pick it up we must always consider its function and question, does it meet our current need.

DigiLit Sunday: Pitfalls and Possibilities of Google Docs

slide11Margaret Simon’s DigiLit Sunday link up is a place to find thoughts and ideas on learning and teaching in the digital world.

Today, Margaret called for reflections on balance in our digital spaces.  Technology can present overwhelming and exciting possibilities, but I need to filter my use of all digital tools through a lens of literacy. I try to find balance by asking, How does this tool enhance or build on students’ abilities as readers and writers?  Today’s reflection allowed me to regain balance. Thank you, Margaret. I needed this.

I love using Google Docs in my writing life and was thrilled to get them in the hands of my students.

The first docs came into my email, and the ease of reading was wonderful. I could see teaching points readily: whole group needs to individual ones. I could check histories to see their process.

I started to comment.

And then, I stopped and wondered,

  • Should I comment at all?
  • Will this writer understand?
  • How should I follow up?
  • Am I teaching the writer, not the writing?

That last point is THE one that matters. When I look at student work, I must be vigilant in looking for the gold, the gems that I can build on. And, I must be looking to teach the writer, not THIS piece. IF I comment digitally, I must filter each thought through that lens.

With those thoughts in mind, I started.

Today I looked back at my comments and I did exactly what I feared. I taught the writing. (UGH!) And, when I gave a compliment, I said nothing about how this is something that writers do. It was just specific to the piece of writing. (DOUBLE UGH!)  And, here’s my ugly question to myself:  Have I made Google Doc comments a digital red pen?


But wait. Kids loved the immediacy of the feedback. Can I make this work?

Thinking it through…

A compliment like: “Love your introduction!” is simple and essentially wasted words. It could become: “Your introduction really sets the tone of your piece. Writers use tone to give the reader an emotional connection to the topic. When I read your piece I feel as sense of amazement and wonder.”

A comment like: “I’m wondering what causes a Tsunami? Check out Seymour Simon’s book” could become, “Writers of informational text give readers answers to wonderings to teach readers. Read through your piece with a wondering mind or even better, ask your writing partner to read and wonder. Then ask yourself, can I answer those wonderings? Do I need to do research?”

Hmm.  It’s better.

I am on a learning curve of how to use Google Docs, right alongside my students. At the very least, having their work on Docs lets me keep abreast of where they are and what to teach.

I am playing with it. Trying to be aware of the pitfalls and possibilities. For some students, it may work, for others, it may have no effect.  It’s a balancing act.

Digital comments should never replace one-on-one conferring. But, if done carefully, could they be a bridge to or from conferring? Could they provide that immediate feedback we all want for our students? In middle grade and above classrooms where class sizes are large, is it a viable option?

For those of you using Google Docs with your student writers, how do you approach the work?





Digital Writing About Reading

It’s late, but I think I’m going to make Margaret Simon’s Sunday link up on digital literacy. Thank you, Margaret, for the push to write about this part of our lives.  slide11This past week I’ve written a lot on Google docs for my cyber book group. I’ve tried this work before, but never on this level.

The idea came together on at TCRWP Summer Writing Insitute in a bookstore.


I think it’s interesting that while all of our book club discussion was digital, the genesis of the club was a book, a bookstore, and a Summer Writing Institute session. Face-to-face interactions, hardcover books, brick-and-mortar stores, and classrooms with teachers and students are still necessary ingredients for learning.

Last week we read and wrote (a lot) about our thinking while reading Cynthia Lord’s book A Handful of Stars.  Our thoughts and notebooks were personal, unique. Each readers’ ideas offered a snapshot of the inside, what was going through our minds as we read.  Mine was unorganized and messy. I was inconsistent in my jots. And, it felt a little risky putting it out there.  There were times when I felt not very smart. Pretty basic retell. Ugh! I hoped no one was grading my thinking. Fortunately, I was among the kindest of colleagues.

BUT,  I thought more deeply about this book than I EVER could have if I had read it alone. The book is still with me. I’m puzzling over some things. I’m re-reading and writing those lines I loved. Images are still fresh. And I’m asking myself, what did it really mean? I’m still putting pieces together.

Would I want to do this for every book I read?  NO. It’s too hard, and I can’t read as much. It breaks up my flow.

BUT, is there a time and place for this type of work? If I did it from time to time would it make me a better reader?  Do we need a little discomfort for growth? I think so.

Now for the $64,000 question.

Can I transfer my experience (the good part) to students while supporting the love of reading?

Curious?  Join us on Twitter, Tuesday, 7/14, 7:30 EDT for a chat on Writing About Reading — #WabtR.



Celebrating: My Digital Life

It’s time to Celebrate this Week with Ruth Ayers! As always, thank you, Ruth. Your link up has led me to so much learning and joy. And thank you to all you add to this weekly celebration. Click here to read others and add your own voice.

celebrate link up


This week’s post is all about my digital life, so it serves as a #digilit post as well! Thank you, Margaret Simon for sending out this weekly call. Find others here.


This week I’ve been organizing. It’s what we teachers do when the summer starts. We sort through all “the stuff” that’s been shoved aside for later.

In the past, that organization was papers, files, books. It’s still papers, files, and books, but now there is more,  and it’s quiet. It doesn’t take up that much space. No one would notice it if they walked into your home. It’s shoved away in a silent, sleek, silver exterior. It’s my laptop. A digital nightmare. That mailbox, those files scattered all over the desktop, those pictures! ACK!!

First my email. I deleted, filed and unsubscribed to emails.

Then, I noticed my photos were everywhere: on my desktop, in the cloud, scattered in various files on my computer. I went down that rabbit hole of click file, delete.  All the while, I obsessively check my email to delete and unsubscribe. By the end of Tuesday, I could claim a managed email inbox and a tidy desktop. Fireworks!! Yeah! Celebrate!

In the process, I found an email from CLMOOC. I had seen Margaret Simon’s work on this here. (To be honest, this was one of the motivating factors behind my digital cleanup. I couldn’t find the email I knew I should have received!)

The call was to “remediate” a story, artifact, picture, blog post, whatever. The word remediate in this project did not mean to “remedy” or fix a problem, as it does in the world of education. This “Make Cycle” task was to take something, an artifact, picture, story, quote, anything and see it through another medium or lens. In this process, the “message” of the media would change. Our mission what to translate, and notice

the… ways in which moving from one medium to another changes what we are able to communicate and how we are able to do so.

I thought of all the pictures I’d sorted. Perhaps I could find a tool that could “remediate” a series of pictures. I’ve used Canva, PicMonkey, and Waterlogue. Each of these digital tools had strengths. I had a little extra time, perhaps I could find another tool.

After a few Google searches and experimentations,  I found befunky. This site allows for photo collages and text like PicMonkey and Canva as well as photo manipulation like Waterlogue.  And it’s free.

BeFunky Collage2


Celebration number two: befunky!

But wait, I have two more things to celebrate with you. Both digital.

Fran McVeigh. Last week TCRWP had their Summer Reading Institute. I was home but enjoyed tweets and Fran McVeigh’s blog posts, every day. This week I celebrate the contribution Fran makes to our learning community. Click here to enjoy.

A Handful of Stars Virtual Book Club. I mentioned this last week. We “officially” start Monday, so tomorrow I’ll share some thoughts on this blog as to how and where to share. Check the link above if you want to join in.

Happy Celebration Saturday!



DigiLit Sunday: Using Film as a Mentor Text

I’m slowly incorporating more digital into my literacy workshops.  Understanding the many options and how they might enhance learning has been a journey.  I’ve learned so much from those who contribute each week to Margaret Simon’s Digi Lit Sunday link up. You all inspire me to try things out and see where it might work in my classroom. Today I offer a piece of my learning.

slide11Testing ended this week, and I was itching to get back to teaching.  Anticipating the end of elementary school, students don’t quite know what to do with themselves. They are antsy. They need to be busy.

All of this makes the end of the school year a perfect time to try out new ideas, to stretch, to try something a little scary, but exciting in a safe place. So this week I challenged my 5th-grade students and myself to reach up to middle school expectations by introducing a new literary idea: tone.

I’ve stayed away from teaching tone for a couple of reasons. One, it isn’t a 5th-grade standard and two, I’ve been a little shaky on the difference between tone and mood. In my mind, they kind of flow together. But this week, for the challenge of it, we went there, and we went there by way of using film as an entry point to understanding.  Film is hardly new in the world of digital literacy, but it’s one of the most powerful teaching tools.

I introduced the concept by talking about a person’s tone of voice and how you can tell (or infer) how the speaker feels through that “tone”.

I gave students some possible words to describe the tone and then showed them a clip from the Hunger Games asking them to look for clues that might tell us the author’s feeling or attitude. Thanks to Katie Clements from TCRWP, I found Clip Converter that allows me to downloaded clips to my computer, making access fool proof during the lesson. No spooling, no ads, only what I wanted and when I wanted it. Clip Converter is easy, and the downloaded clips can be stored on Google Drive.

The beautiful thing about this clip is its lack of dialog.  We infer the emotion from facial expressions, body language and tone of voice. Students watched and jotted. Then they watched again looking for evidence to support their word choice. They came up with words like powerful, defiant, and fearless citing Katniss’s bold move shooting the apple and her tone of voice as she left.

Transferring this thinking to written text was the next step.

The planned read aloud was at a spot with intense action. I asked students to take the work they did with the film clip and use in this part of our story.

Hundreds of people lined the riverbank. The soldiers were forcing some of them into the water, prodding them with their rifle butts, shooting into the air. Other people, afraid of the soldiers and their guns, were leaping into the water on their own. They were immediately swept downstream by the powerful current.

This action packed part was a perfect place. It’s intense, and you can’t help but be on the edge of your seat. With me reading it, all had access to the text. Students came up with:

  • crazy
  • scary
  • chaos
  • doom
  • powerless

The images of rifle buts, forcing, shooting in the air, leaping in the water all created feeling and it was easy for students to describe the tone.

Using this clip again and again as a mentor text is inviting and accessible to all students. Film clips help students grab hold of abstract literary ideas. And I just don’t use it enough.

Can you imagine using this same clip to dig into character, setting, mood, symbolism? How could this be transferred into writing?  

Using Clip Converter and Google Drive as a virtual filing cabinet I’ll be more likely to reach for this tool in the future.

Celebrate/#SOL15: Writing Connections

This post is for day 14 of the Slice of Life Story Challenge and a Celebrate This Week link up rolled into one.



celebrate link up




This week I celebrate celebrating. Celebrating is a mindset, a practice. It reorients me toward the positive. I need that. Thank you, Ruth.

I celebrate my friend Dayna who is now “addicted” to blogging. We sat after work. Dayna’s on her phone. I knew what she was doing. Blogging. I know how she feels. Find her lovely writing here.

I celebrate one hour of student blogging on Friday. I borrowed iPads from my colleague so that all of my kiddos could blog at the same time. They’ve been working on posts all week, but with only 15 minutes a day to blog, many were still in the drafting stage. The objective was to publish and then venture into other classroom blogs and comment.   Find their  slices here.  These tiny pieces of their lives give snapshots of them. Sometimes they surprise me.

I celebrate the WiFi. It worked. All students were capable of connecting, writing, and reading blogs.

I celebrate the ability to give immediate feedback to student writers. As they posted their slices, I could read; then pull up alongside them for an extensive complement and then a “teach” a “nudge” to something that could lift the level of their work.

I celebrate connections students made to other classrooms. The beauty of connecting to one classroom is the multiplier effect.  Mrs. Silverspring’s classroom‘s blogroll has links all over the world. I had no idea, but my student Ryley found it. “I’m reading something written by someone in Russia!”

I celebrate the mentoring power of reading other kid writing. One of my students quite naturally wanted to “write like Tobie in Mrs. Simon’s classroom.”  How beautiful is that?! That, I told him is what writers do.

I celebrate teacher bloggers who share their writing lives with students. The “Dual Poem” form introduced to the adult slicer community by Greg Armamentos has shown up in Margaret Simon’s classroom.

Finally, I celebrate the Slicer community who has opened up my writing life. Thank you, Anna, Beth, Betsy, Dana, Stacey and Tara of Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the Slice of Life March Story Challenge. Read other bloggers slices here.

Digital Literacy Journey: Messy and Organic

Margaret Simon, of Reflections on The Techehas started this wonderful Sunday link up on how we are using technology to enhance literacy in our classrooms. Read all the posts that link up with her on Sundays and learn!

My digital literacy journey in the classroom has been messy and interesting. It has been less than perfect and has taken more time than anticipated. While I’d like to be the master of all knowledge and be able to direct students to the best apps to enhance their learning, but I can’t. So I give them time to try things out. They are the testers and the teachers.

We test things out mostly outside reading and writing blocks, during Genius Hour time, tech team (at recess), and after school. Technology takes experimentation and time. Once things seem to be doable and  applicable for reading or writing we’ll take the tech there.

I give students the time (Genius Hour is once a week) and the trust to explore. I might introduce them to an app or a site and ask them if they would like to play with it to see what they can make of it. Sometimes we run into roadblocks, like we did with Animoto and Smores. Both are fantastic tools but the lack of bandwidth at school stopped us cold, so we set it aside while the district works on upgrades.

Students  welcome the opportunity to learn and teach technology. They are passionate about it and pursue it as choice. What students find and share becomes reason for them to come in off the yard at recess and after school to experiment on their own time.

Stopmotion and Paper 53 (a sketch pad/story boarding tool) were discovered by “T” and “M” through the Animation Chef’s website. Students loved their short animations and found these apps help them compose and tell story.

Our current dilemma is writing about reading on the blog. Blogging about reading is one way students discuss their books. It allows for comments and feedback. Clarifications have been made and concerns about spoiling the story have been cited. Both allow for us to grow as a community of readers and writers.

Organic and messy in nature we are working together  to increase our digital literacy.

Next Steps..  I’m looking to introduce  Padlet  for our read aloud discussion. Students can post their comments or questions immediately after read aloud. If we get good at this, what’s to stop us from using this as a tool for posting questions on the books they are reading in clubs. The other way I’m thinking about using Padlet is to enhance our argument writing. Currently students are working on whether zoos are good or bad. I’ve linked a web page to this Padlet. They can read and comment and even copy quotes for their essays. Perhaps share their own links to support their positions.

Thanks to all who linked up today. I got some great ideas. I’m looking forward to using Thinglink with students for our Colonial work coming up in May (thank you Tara for those virtual tours and the connection to Thinglink) and Soundcloud to add to their blog posts on poetry (thanks to Kevin and Linda for being great mentors).

Thank you Margaret for this link up and all for adding so much to my digital literacy.