Saturday, August 20, 2016

Knowing Ourselves as Learners Can Improve Our Instruction

Do You Know Yourself as a Learner?

Dear Readers,
As back to school season is upon us, we are all thinking about how to build relationships, form connections and create a classroom community of learners.

As important as it is to find out your students’ “favorite things”, it’s equally as important to get to know them as learners.  Your students should never feel they have to adapt their natural way of learning to your instructional delivery, in fact your instruction should meet the needs of various types of learners.

I happened to be in a few Twitter chats recently and was talking about myself as a learner. I am not an auditory learner. For example, I struggle to recall numbers, I need them repeated several times and in small chunks. While many people turn to audio books, they are quite honestly a nightmare for me. I have difficulty hearing in crowded rooms with many people and a lot of noise in the background. I tend to sit in the front or on the outside layout of the room. Over the years I have found that is my ideal learning place. I rely heavily on handouts, visual presentations and asking questions. I learn most effectively through language. I read a ton and at a fairly fast pace. It is my strength and I use it.

Additionally, I am a hands on learner, but perhaps not your traditional thinking of what you consider hands on to be. I love taking notes, it keeps me focused and helps me process verbal information. It is like a math manipulative, but for a language minded person. I make lists, write in books, highlight, add post-its, I truly interact and annotate professional resources, articles or texts.

I have recently discovered a love for creating visual representations of what I am learning. I do not like to draw, however I use language to create visual maps that I see in my mind. It is putting my thinking on paper for others to see. It is a great tool to see how people think about information.

I can also be an introvert or extrovert based on the learning I am doing. For instance, as a technology learner, I need to be in a small group, fairly quiet environment with a patient, encouraging and supportive facilitator/instructor. I embrace technology and social media and am not afraid to try new things, but I must feel comfortable doing so. If I were to be a student in your class I would need things broken down in chunks, repetition, ability to ask tons of questions and 1:1 “conferencing”. I would most likely be on the quieter side as I need to listen, process, reflect and then try. I also need to walk away, try what I learned and then come back for more.

However, if I am at a language or literacy professional development I thrive in a fast paced environment with many individuals and for my thinking to be challenged. Most likely I am going to exhibit more extrovert behaviors because it is my comfort level and strength to talk about language, reading, writing, speaking and listening. As a student in your class I would need to be challenged and spend more time engaging in thoughtful conversations than being “talked at”. I would get bored easily if the pace was slow and it was more of a lecture style learning environment.

Knowing yourself as a learner can help you see learning from your students’ perspective and help create a comfortable learning environment for them.

I wish everyone a wonderful start to the school year!


Friday, August 12, 2016

Sketching in the Classroom

My Sketchnote Notebook 

Dear Readers,

I have recently found a love for creating visual representations (aka "Sketchnotes"). I was first introduced to sketchnotes when Matt Miller (@jmattmiller) created one based on my first blog post on becoming a Literacy Teacher.

I have always incorporated anchor charts (thank you #tcrwp) into my instruction to develop independent learners and capture our lessons and thinking.

Student-Centered Learning

A book that really resonated with me this summer was Learning to Choose, Choosing to Learn by Mike Anderson (@balancedteacher). In it, he discusses the important of student choice. As I reflected on my instructional practices, it made me think about different ways to offer students choice in their learning. Many of my students love to doodle and draw. I started to think about how I could improve my teaching practices by offering more options for note-taking or responding to literature.

After seeing Stacey Lindes' (@iruntech) 100 day challenge to herself of producing 100 sketchnotes in 100 days, I was extremely motivated to try it. Here is my journey thus far in the world of sketchnotes.

Step 1: Trying to Capture My Understanding After Reading a Text

While I was moderating #LAUNCHBOOK Chat, I was interacting with the text very closely and making tons of annotations in my book. I wanted to create a visual poster of my thinking regarding the design cycle. 

Step 2: Combining Several Anchor Charts into a Single Cohesive Chart

Last month, I was teaching a modified Genius Hour summer session and after brainstorming with my students, realized I had four different posters on creating and revising research questions. I wanted to combine all of our thinking so students could see it as a process. 

Step 3: Co-Created a Poster with Students in Real Time

Instead of waiting until after class, I wanted students to see the process of going through the formation of a sketchnote. As we discussed ideas for research stamina, I captured it as a process. 

It worked extremely well! I was able to show them how sometimes we go back and repeat steps. It also showed them that thinking is messy! We want it to be messy! 

Step 4: Sketchnoting While Reading

My next step was to try sketchnoting in real time while I was reading. As I thought about building our classroom community this year, I was inspired by ideas from Reading in the Wild and The Reading Strategies Book. 

Step 5: "Pirate Books"

At this point, I wanted to see what it would feel like to have a sketchnote notebook to start capturing ideas while learning. I bought this:

Some of my biggest inspiration comes from Dave and Shelley Burgess who always put out really creative books with amazing authors. The content of the books are so diverse and quite frankly, just plain fun! I knew I would really be able to bring my creativity to sketchnotes using their publications. My sketchnote notebook began.

My first creations were using Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess (@burgessdave), P is for Pirate by Dave and Shelley Burgess (@burgess_shelley) and Instant Relevance by Denis Sheeran (@MathDenisNJ). 

Step 6: "Pirate" Author Requests

I was having so much fun that I decided to take some requests! I asked Paul Soloraz (@PaulSoloraz) and Quinn Rollins (@jedikermit) to choose their favorite chapters and I would create their custom-made sketchnotes! 

I asked Quinn what one of his his favorite chapters was and he chose action figures. Then I asked him one of his favorite children's books and his first choice was Harold and the Purple Crayon. 

Paul chose chapter 3 as one of his favorites! 

Step 7: Capturing a Twitter Chat

Now I was ready to take on summarizing a chat! I am honored to co-moderate the slow chat #theclassroomwall with Steve Wyborney (@SteveWyborney). I looked back through the responses to and captured common themes and ideas for Question #1. 

Step 8: My Personal Mission Statement

As I started to fill my notebook, I decided to add my personal mission statement that hangs in my classroom. Here is what I came up with:

Next Steps

My next sketchnote will be based on the following Young Adult book:

I want to see, from a student perspective, how I can use sketchnotes to respond to reading. First, I will choose a writing prompt and then respond to it in the form of a sketchnote.


As I reflect on this journey, I can see many benefits to introducing this learning tool to students. A few things come to mind when I consider the benefits to student learning:
  • use language and/or pictures/symbols to capture their learning in an organized way that makes sense to them
  • choose key words/phrases/ideas that are essential to their learning
  • write down as much or as little information that they need
  • give them options for taking notes, conducting research and making their thinking and/or learning visible to others
  • collaborate together on tasks
  • offer an alternative to traditional writing in response to reading essay type tasks
  • offer more options for the pre-writing stage of the writing progress
There are so many more! My hope is to create an anchor notebook for them to draw ideas from.

I cannot wait to see where my creativity will go!


Friday, August 5, 2016

#LAUNCHBOOK Chat Questions


Dear Readers,

I thoroughly enjoyed our July book discussion regarding LAUNCH: Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity and Bring Out the Maker in Every Student by A.J. Juliani and John Spencer.

It was an incredibly high energy, fast-paced amazing chat with global participation! You can find incredible resources on

LAUNCH Discussion Questions

Here are the questions, in case you missed any of the conversation.

Chapters 1-3

  1. What does the word "creative" mean to you?
  2. Thinking about the various creative approaches, which do you identify with the most? Why?
  3. What does "design thinking" mean to you?
  4. How can we encourage colleagues to embrace their creative approach?
  5. Please share any reflections you have so far about the LAUNCH Cycle.
  6. Please share any take-aways you are leaving with from our discussion.
Find the action plan template at

Chapters 4-6

  1. What does "student centered learning" mean to you?
  2. How can awareness and curiosity work in tandem and spark creative problem-solving?
  3. "Every child is born with a natural curiosity. It is not something we have to teach, but it is something we must cultivate and nurture." (pg.94) How can we do this in our own learning environments?
  4. "Sometimes the bravest thing you can do is ask a question." (pg.99) How can we develop a culture of risk-takers and inquirers?
  5. "Children are already researching before they ever learn to read." (pg.110) What does "student centered research" look like?
  6. Please share a take-away you are leaving with from today's discussion.
Storify: Chat #2

Chapters 7-10

  1. "Most of the time, however, when people have created things that truly matter to them, they started with a plan." (pg.131) Why is the planning phase so important?
  2. How do divergent thinking and innovation complement each other? (pg.138)
  3. "Every roadblock is a chance to solve a problem." (pg.155) How do we encourage students (and ourselves) to push through "project fatigue" and keep going?
  4. Boredom can be important to creative thinking. Why? (pg.167)
  5. "We prefer to use the word improve rather than fix, because fix implies something is broken." (pg. 176) How can word choice encourage or inhibit students' progress? Please share words/phrases you use!
  6. Please share take-aways from today's discussion.
Storify: Chat #3

Reflective Questions

  1. How can you see yourself using the LAUNCH Cycle in your daily instruction?
  2. What would be the benefits of using the LAUNCH Cycle in your daily instruction?
  3. How can we implement the LAUNCH Cycle into our own professional learning?
  4. What is your biggest take-away after reading and engaging in discussions about the LAUNCH Cycle?
  5. Please share any resources that would help with implementation.
  6. Final thoughts for the group?
Storify: Chat #4

Sincere Gratitude

Please keep sharing ideas using #LAUNCHBOOK. Have a fantastic start to the school year!


Friday, July 22, 2016

Sketch Your Thinking

Sketch Your Thinking

Dear Readers,

As a Language and Literacy Teacher, I have always used anchor charts in my classroom. They serve as a "blueprint" of instruction and the main purpose is to develop independent thinkers and learners. I consider my walls "living" in that they change throughout the year as we embark on our learning journey.

A few months ago, I was first introduced to Sketchnotes by Stacey Lindes (@iruntech) during her 100 day challenge. I started paying attention to posts on Twitter.  One day while skimming through, I saw a few from #ISTE2016.

It paused me to stop and reflect. I have been creating "thinking charts" for years. Was there a way to improve upon my practice? I have always thought of them as putting my thought process into a visual representation. It is essential for students (and teachers) to see the process and/or planning to reach an end product and/or goal. 

A problem I often have is the number of charts I create. Would I be able to condense some of those into one chart depicting a process instead of several?


I spent quite a bit of time interacting with LAUNCH as I prepared for the book discussion.  I was drawn to the visual representation of the LAUNCH Cycle. I had read where Sketchnotes were used to capture ideas while reading or listening for professional development. I tried it out with LAUNCH. 
  • I knew that I was going to set it up similar to the LAUNCH Cycle in a clockwise direction. 
  • I work well using key words, ideas and phrases.
  • My mind organizes information in categories with bulleted lists.
  • My mind thinks in words/language, it does not think in numbers and rarely in pictures.
  • I like to group things together using boxes or "clouds", in addition to highlighting/starring key concepts.
What you see, is a first/final draft of my first ever sketchnote! It came so naturally to me! A few things I learned:
  • Rewriting the information in a way that made sense to me, made me engage with it even deeper.
  • I was able to capture everything I deemed important in one chart.
  • A student who knew nothing about LAUNCH was able to identify it was a process or steps of some sort. It made sense to one of my students.
  • I was able to include quotes, character traits, etc. that I wanted to remember.
When I stand back and view it, I captured the LAUNCH Cycle in a way that was meaningful to me.

My next step, would I be able to do this "live" in front of students?

Genius Hour

As a summer enrichment class, I offered a 2hourX3days Genius Hour type class. (I am going to skip ahead to day two for a moment.) I decided to try creating a Sketchnote live with the students. I told them it was the first time I was trying it and we would see how it went! Of course, they were on board and came along for the ride!

I took a different approach and was not entirely sure where I was headed until I started. This time I started counter clockwise and we talked about what research is and different resources. We also discussed bias, opinion, agenda, etc. (Have you ever asked students what research is? Try it, you will get interesting responses.)

We were talking about building stamina, so I geared our key concepts and ideas toward the process of research stamina. On the right, we broke down how we actually engage in the research process. I learned:
  • Students think they are going through the entire process, but actually might be missing key steps, such as planning!
  • Deciding on a topic and formulating a question (more to come on that in a moment) take time. 
  • They need to realize their question can be revised, many times if needed, they do not need to go back to the drawing board. It is truly a process and steps can be repeated as often as necessary.
  • One student said, "That's what is in my mind. It's what we are thinking."
  • I often think back to something Lisa Eickholdt (@LisaEickholdt) tweeted once. "If we do not show students what is happening in our minds, think aloud for them, they think we can do something they cannot do." The visuals help them connect to us as learners too. They see that their thought process is similar to ours.
This Sketchnote was not planned (other than the topic: Research Stamina) and was created on the spot with students. 

Important Reflection: I realized as I created these that they also depict what thinking is, messy! It shows students that the creative process, the research process, any learning process is messy! It gives them permission to think that way as well!

Anchor Charts Turned Sketchnotes

On the left, you see my day 1 anchor charts (total=4) and on the right, my days 2 and 3 sketchnotes. I wanted to capture all the work we did designing a research question. I use the word design because it truly is a process that takes time, creative thinking and patience. Here is what I came up with:


Again, I went in a clockwise direction. I learned:
  • It is powerful to see the process like this. We started with a topic, narrowed those topics, created questions, revised the questions and decided on a question to start with.
  • It is important not to call the end result "the final question" because they then move to the research phase where they can revise the questions as often as needed.
  • It really shows the thinking process of creating a question that can be researched.

A Perfectly Messed Up Story

One of my all-time favorite picture books is A Perfectly Messed Up Story. The main character is attempting to write a story, but he keeps getting interrupted or peanut butter and jelly are falling on the page. However, at the end he learns an important lesson. Writing is a process and stories can be started, interrupted, revised and continued. 

Just like our thinking. Thinking is messy and we need to empower our students with the skills/strategies to become independent thinkers and learners. They need to be able to ask questions, relevant and thought provoking questions. They need to see our thinking as a model. 

Are we preparing them for their futures with the appropriate skills/strategies? Would you be able to teach students how to design thought provoking, powerful questions?


Friday, July 15, 2016

Tough Conversations

What If a Student Came to You About........

Dear Readers,

As adults, we frequently find it difficult to find a balance in our lives between healthy living, personal obligations and professional responsibilities. Luckily, most of us have family, friends, spouses, PLN members, tribes, crews, groups, chats, some type of "go-to" when we feel like we are drowning. We rely on these support systems to encourage us, listen and make us feel like we are not alone.  

What about our students? So many of our middle school students (I work with them on a daily basis) are overwhelmed today with academics, extra-curricular activities, relationships, family, friends, jobs and things we know nothing about. Being so young, they often do not have the "toolbox" of strategies that we have developed as adults, as we have experienced life. 

Some young adults have a strong support to lean on, while others do not. Some make good choices when dealing with stress and others make decisions that they think will help them at that moment in time regardless of the impact it may have on their well-being or the people who love them.

As educators, we all have our own personal comfort level(s) with different topics and experiences. Our students may confide in us forcing us to have tough conversations. 
  • Would you be ready to engage in tough conversations?
  • Do you know what topics you would feel comfortable talking to students about? 
  • Do you know what topics you would feel uncomfortable talking to students about?
I am fortunate in that there are few topics I am uncomfortable discussing with students. It has allowed me to establish powerful relationships as both a classroom teacher, administrative intern and reading specialist providing interventions. 

Over the past few years, I have immersed myself in Young Adult Literature. As a result, I have discovered many titles that have main characters facing teen issues relevant to their world today. They have helped me in learning about the students I work with, as well as being resources to recommend to parents, teachers and sometimes students if appropriate. 

On the other hand, these are books our students are reading. I have seen many of them in the hands of those I teach. Consequently, I have had students inquire about some of the issues they encounter in them. I also think it is important to be aware of what our teens are reading so if/when they approach us we are ready.

These recommendations, thoughts and opinions are my own. I hope they can be of help to you as they have been to me.


I had the pleasure of seeing Jay Asher speak at the Rochester Teen Book Festival a couple of years ago. 

The main character of his book takes her own life. She leaves behind 13 cassette tapes for different individuals in her life. It reveals the plot that led to her decision. 

It is a very powerful story about the importance of listening to our students. We hear them, but do we really listen? 

This title is one of a trilogy. It speaks to the word of athletics and also how one accident can change lives forever. 

A young man is the driver when a teammate is killed in a car accident. Drinking was involved and he does not know how to move forward.

It is another powerful story about a young adult who feels there is no other option but to take his own life.

My Reflection: Suicide is so complex because it impacts so many people, it is like a Domino effect. What if this happened in our schools to a student? What if it happened to a family member of one of our students? I once helped a student write a personal narrative on a death by suicide in the family. What would your comfort level be in helping that same student?

Eating Disorders

I have also had the pleasure of seeing Laurie Halse Anderson at Rochester Teen Book Festival. I work with middle school girls who are consumed with their weight, looks and how they are perceived by others. I frequently hear the phrase, "I need to lose weight."

This is the story of two young females who are desperate to be as thin as possible. It costs one of them her life. Consequently, the other friend has to find a way to come to terms with her illness in order to be healthy and the loss of a friend.

My Reflection: How can we help our girls to see the beauty they possess on the inside and outside despite the massive amounts of images they are constantly exposed to depicting an unrealistic reality? What if a student came to us with a concern about a friend? What if we had a concern about a student? 

Self-Injury (such as cutting)

I once had a conversation with someone who was concerned about a young woman she knew who was engaging in self-injury behaviors. I recommended this book to that person and the feedback was it gave some insight into the mind of someone who feels the need to hurt himself/herself.

I have also had experience with a young adult who engaged in this behavior. The important thing I learned was students should never feel ashamed to talk to us about what is happening in their lives.

My Reflection: Cutting can be a scary and intimidating topic. How would we react if a student was engaging in this behavior? What would we do if a student confided that another student was doing this?


When this book came out, it was being passed around between 8th graders. I remember a parent asking about it. Luckily, I had read it and loaned that parent my copy. 

The story is told from a male perspective. He befriends a female that some would consider "rebellious" and makes "poor choices". However, he is drawn to her and must face the turmoil that seems to follow her.

It combines several issues that are interrelated and connected to one another.

Personal Reflection: Our students are good people who sometimes make poor decisions. How do we help those who need healthier ways of dealing with "life"? How do we help others to not make those same decisions?

The Tip of the Iceberg.......

Of course these are just the tip of the iceberg in amazing Young Adult Literature. Our students count on us as their support system, sometimes we might be the only support they have. It is important that we recognize our own strengths and difficulties in having difficult conversations.

Thank you to all educators for everything you do each day! You are heroes to so many of our students!