Celebrate: Reminders and Other Essentials

I need reminders.

This week I went to the Right Question Institute’s seminar and was reminded of the power of the Question Formulation Technique that teaches kids to make, revise and prioritize questions around any subject matter. I discovered this work a few years ago and used in my classroom. Read about it here and here and here. Watch a few videos with students using the technique here.

Last year I did not use it. Not because last year’s group of students didn’t need it. Not because it took too much time. But because I was overwhelmed with the next new thing. The new (that was good) took over and drove a lot of good out of the class. My fault.

This week I was reminded by Dan Rothstein, Luz Santana and a room full of educators of the power and process of questioning.  My students need this work every year to reflect on ideas. This week I was reminded of something I knew but forgot: to blend new practices with older powerful practices.

This week I was fortunate (thank you #g2great Voxer) to be amongst a group of teachers treated to learning with Trevor Bryan. He took us through the Art of Comprehension Access Lenses. For a look-see at the possibilities of his work check out this link.

I hope, for the sake of students and teachers, his approach to teaching comprehension through artwork is published and shared widely. His tools allow students to “read” artwork with lenses that can be used to read a text and can be used to drive student writing.

Trevor’s access lenses teach students the skill of reading a mood in a painting and finding evidence for that mood by breaking down what appears in the artwork into patterns. Think color, facial expression, spatial relationships. And I’m just scratching the surface of this new tool I will add to my tool box of reading and writing strategies.

The Question Formulation Technique and the Art of Comprehension Access Lenses will bring my students to new understandings. This week I celebrate the brilliance and dedication behind that work.

This week I celebrate the necessity of reminders and working with others. Collaboration is the ingredient that emulsifies the work,

This week I celebrate passionate educators who step up to learn and support each other with energy and enthusiasm. It grows our practice that blooms in our classrooms, every year.

Slice of Life: Consider Your Audience…Message and Purpose

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hThis weekend, my sister-in-law reported the fact that her nephew, my son, had not followed through on a business opportunity she had set up for him.

I knew about this. I knew he wanted it, and was shocked that he had let it slip.

She went on to explain, “His generation operates by text, they don’t understand that the business world operates by email.”

Apparently my son hadn’t checked his email.

I agreed his generation, doesn’t use email as its prime mode of communication. They don’t check it as they do their texts. But, I thought, my email is a dark hole. Things get buried there so quickly. Anything that matters doesn’t go there. Surely executives have similar issues.

“You see,” she went on, “he (the executive) is continually on planes, the only way he can communicate on a flight is by email. He can’t text.”

Oh, got it. Interesting.

We thrive on communication. The ways and the speed at which we do it are exploding. How we harness it, is complicated. And as always, audience matters. If we don’t ask ourselves how do they connect, what are their constraints, and how do I best reach them, we might not connect.

My mother had to learn to call my cell phone. I don’t answer the land line. Forget calling my daughter. Text is the only thing that will get a response.

You might think this is a generational divide. But consider this: I’m trying to get my friend, who is new to Twitter, to a chat. If I want her to get the message as to the time and hashtag, I text her the information. Tweeting her wouldn’t work. That’s not how she gets her information.

So it’s not just generational; it’s how people access information.  And as I thought about it, it’s more than just access, it’s about purpose.

I recently let Voxer into my life. Initially, I resisted. One more way to get communication felt overwhelming.  But I’ve found, Voxer has a purpose and a place.  It allows for a spoken group conversation. Thoughts expressed through talk are different. They are less restrictive and open up possibilities that might be limited by written words. We know talk is necessary in our classrooms, why not in professional development.

Last week, I was involved in a Google doc discussion on a book. We choose this because of accessibility but also for the type of communication.  We wanted a flexible, communal space to share our ideas. Access, our purpose, and the message being conveyed mattered. The tool we choose to communicate with had to match the needs.

With all of this choice in our personal and professional lives, what about our classrooms. The ways we can communicate are so varied and changing, how do we decide what works best for our students. Perhaps by looking through the lens of audience access, message and purpose the choice will become clearer.

And as for my son, apparently it wasn’t too late. Emails were sent and received. The executive was impressed. The opportunity was saved.

Happy ending and lesson learned:  it won’t matter how good the message is if it isn’t heard.

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers Blog for providing a place every Tuesday to share our writing. Find more slices here.

Digi Lit Sunday: A Virtual Book Club

Here’s a late post for DigiLit Sunday. A place to share our digital literacy learning hosted by Margaret Simon on her blog Reflections on the Teche.slide11

Last week I was at Bank Stree Books Store in New York City with teacher friends, Sally Donnelly, Allison Jackson and Fran McVeigh, and we all bought Cynthia Lord’s new book Handful of Stars.  We teach in different schools, in different states, but we share the same passion for reading and belief in our students.


After my first day at the Summer Writing Institute, I wanted read this book as a club with my TCRWP colleagues. So I suggested a virtual book club. Immediately, the three and others in different states (who found out on Twitter) jumped on board. We plan to start the week of July 6th. If you’re interested in joining click here to add your name and contact info.

How might this “virtual” book club work? After a little discussion, Google Docs was thought to be the most universal in terms of access and knowledge base. Perhaps if the group is up for it, we can throw in a Twitter chat.

The question I’m pondering: Is there a better technology tool to make virtual book clubs more effective?

I’d been hearing about Voxer for awhile. I love Twitter and my blogging friends. Dare I open up another tool? Could it overwhelm and fracture my already splintered focus?

With encouragement from folks like Dr. Mary Howard and Jenn Hayhurst, I signed up.

Disclaimer: I have been using Voxer in a group chat for a short period, but I can see the potential value in it.  We have been discussing Jennifer Serravallo’s new book, The Reading Strategies Book. Voxer does provide something different. And that difference is the actual conversation.

The Pros:

  • Allows for spoken conversations. It acts as a walkie-talkie.  You push a button and talk.
  • You can choose to write your thoughts, and the text space is unlimited.
  • You can  add attachments, pictures and links,
  • When you are invited in for a chat, you are linked to all others in the chat.  The conversation is “heard” by all.
  • It’s happening 24/7, so like Twitter you can add into the conversation or check back at any time.
  • You can save comments by “starring” them.
  • It’s on your phone; you’re mobile!

The Cons:

The free version has limitations.

  • Limited data retention
  • Limited number of users in chat
  • No computer access, you must have a smartphone to use
  • You have to hold down the talk button to keep recording
  • It might get hard to follow conversation over time

I’m using the free version and have enjoyed using it. It is fun to hear comments and be unlimited by the number of characters you use if you choose to text. The real power of Voxer seems to be in using the record function. If you are going to write your responses, a Google doc might be a better way to go for a written conversation.

Try out a chat on Voxer with someone to get the feel of it. Then consider VoxerPro if it’s something you could see benefiting your team.

Personally I’m loving trying it out.