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!


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Sweetness of Doing Nothing

The Sweetness of Doing Nothing

Dear Readers,

I love this phrase. In a culture and society that seems to never slow down, it's so important for us to find balance in our lives. 

Part of that balance is our "white space" as Jeff Veal (@heffrey) reminded us in our #leadupchat Voxer group. We have to intentionally set aside the time for rest, relaxation and rejuvenation. 

Ironically, last night, #tlap was moderated by Dan Tricarico (@thezenteacher) author of The Zen Teacher: Creating Focus, Simplicity and Tranquility. In his book he states:

"Finding a moment of Zen can be a profoundly deep and meaningful pursuit. In that moment, you are fully present and are experiencing life in a way that the rest of the world-in its insane marathon of haste, chaos, and busyness-typically ignores." (page 7)

How do you find your Zen? Do you find it through art, music, fitness, literature, writing, etc.?

Here are some of the ways I am spending my summer finding my zen and white space!

My Beloved Erie Canal

 One of my absolute favorites places to read is on the Erie Canal. I have a routine of stopping for coffee and taking a book (or two) to the "quiet" side of the canal. It is heaven listening to the water, the trees and the sounds of people across the canal. Once in a while one of the tour boats passes through or privately owned boats. 

Reflection Questions:
  • Where is your special reading place?
  • Do you have one?
  • Why do you like it so much?

My Fitness "Un-Routine"

I enjoy many different types of workouts. I also enjoy working out on my time. I have assembled what I consider my "home gym". I am able to kickbox, do Pilates, challenge myself with my toning ball or stretch out with some yoga. All in the comfort of my living room. I am fortunate enough that my apartment complex has a mini-gym right next door with a stationary bike. I often "Book & Bike". My rule to myself is: no distractions, including my phone.

Reflection Questions:

  • What do you like to do to stay healthy?
  • Do you have a fitness routine?
  • Do you like indoor activities? Outdoor activities?
  • Do you belong to a gym? Work out at home?


During the summer months, I get to combine two of my favorite activities outdoors: music and walking. I have a route that is predominantly uphill and takes me through a beautiful residential neighborhood. My no phone expectation applies to this as well.

My love of music started at a young age, I played the violin for 15 years. My musical taste is extremely eclectic depending on my mood, the day, etc.

Reflection Questions:
  • How do you "turn off" from social media?
  • How do you get fresh air and find ways to be outside?
  • Do you stop and notice the beauty of nature while outside?

Finding My Inner Artist

 I love tapping into my creative artist self. Over the past year I have started painting stools for my classroom and the students have painted several quotes onto canvases. I have a beautiful student art gallery when they are all hung up. My latest projects include the stool below with some of my favorite words and this vase with LaVonna Roth's (@LaVonna Roth) magical S.H.I.N.E. acronym. (Self, Heart, Inspire, Navigate, Exceptional)

Reflection Questions:
  • How do you find your creative inner self?
  • Do you draw, color, paint, invent things, etc?

Bookworm Extraordinaire

As many of you know, books are like air to me. I am lucky enough to have a job where I am surrounded by one of my passions. These are just a few of the titles I have read this summer.

Reflection Questions:
  • What do you read?
  • Do you read for professional purposes and pleasure?

"Blogging Machine"

According to Jon Harper (@Jonharper70bd) I am a blogging machine this summer! I listened to Dave Burgess (@burgessdave) and his #127. I am thoroughly enjoying my "writing time" as I call it. I was even fortunate enough to have my pal Julie N. Smith (@julnilsmith) collaborate with me!

Reflection Questions:
  • Do you utilize the power of writing to share your ideas to an audience?
  • How do you reflect, connect to others, inspire, etc.?

Book Clubs, Twitter Chats, Moderator......Oh MY!

I am blessed that Shelley Burgess (@burgess_shelley) continues to give me opportunities to moderate #satchatwc. June 25th, I was lucky enough to moderate on my birthday! I have also co-moderated several books chats including #Choose2Learn and #LAUNCHBOOK.

In addition, I try and participate in as many chats as possible that I am unable to make during the school year.

Reflection Questions:
  • Do you participate more or less in social media when you have free time?
  • Are there particular chats you enjoy?

A Wish to All of You

I sincerely wish you all a relaxing and rejuvenating summer if you are on vacation. If you are a 12 month employee, I hope you were able to find some down time doing what you enjoy. If you head back to school soon, I hope you begin the school year feeling balanced and healthy!


Sunday, July 10, 2016

No Cookie Cutter Thinking Allowed!

Cookie Cutter Thinking? No thank you!

Dear Readers,

I participated in some amazing chats yesterday including #satchat, #leadupchat and #satchatwc. I love and look forward to my Saturday morning connections and discussions! The topics did not disappoint: innovation, risk-taking and public learners. What a morning of professional learning!

One of my strengths as a literacy teacher is to look at different resources and pair the ideas together. I have always been able to look at the big picture and see how the puzzle pieces fit. How can we integrate fantastic ideas from various resources?

Following yesterday's conversations, I started thinking about my students, my instruction and final products when given a task to do. Am I encouraging cookie cutter thinkers? Or innovative thinking? Am I giving students choices? More importantly are they making choices on their own?

Learning to Choose Choosing to learn: The Key to Motivation & Achievement

Mike Anderson really opened my eyes to student choice. I love the concept of self-differentiation. I had never heard that term before and now think about it often. Do I differentiate my instruction and options? More importantly, are students able to choose based on their strengths and interests?  

Another key concept Anderson touched on was relationship building. On page 34, "You must make collegiate and positive interactions and personal connections part of the daily work of classroom work throughout the year." Collaboration needs to be taught. We cannot just put students together and hope they will figure it out. They need skills and strategies and modeling from us.

Upstanders: How to Engage Middle School Hearts and Minds with Inquiry

How do we teach students to be upstanders in the classroom, community and as global citizens? How do we teach them how to collaborate, communicate and respectfully disagree? These skills and strategies need to be taught, modeled and practiced.

Students need to be able to work with people they choose (such as friends), as well as those they may not have a connection with. They need to learn how to listen and process other points of view other than their own.

This is essential in building a safe and comfortable learning environment for all. The skills and strategies they learn, will be invaluable outside the classroom as well.

Teach Like a Pirate: Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an Educator

Dave Burgess completely changed my thinking about creativity in the classroom. I think I read this 2-3 times. In the introduction he says, "At the same time, my goal is to help you create an inviting, engaging, and most importantly, empowering classroom climate." Count me in!

Although I love them all, a few of my favorites hooks are Kinesthetic, Safari, Picasso, Mozart, Craft Store, Student Hobby, Student-Directed, Opportunistic, Interior Design, and Board Message. The best part is they all just naturally fit into what I am already doing. Music, art and movement have always been an essential part of my instruction. Burgess showed me how to push my thinking and create even more experiences using my passions.

P is for Pirate: Inspirational ABC's for Educators

I have a love for picture books regardless of what grade I teach. I absolutely adore them and yes, I even use them in Middle School. A picture book for educators? Amazing!

Dave and Shelley Burgess take us on a delightful and inspiring journey. Their powerful message needs to reach every educator, "Every child can learn. Every child possesses enormous potential waiting to be unlocked. Every child will rise or fall to the level of our expectations."

I am sure many of us have fond memories of being read aloud to as children. As an adult, I still love read alouds. Sit back and let Dave and Shelly take you away for a few moments into their positive, thought provoking pirate world.

My Love of Picture Books, the Messages They Teach and Read Aloud

Despite the fact that I teach 6th-8th graders, when I engage them in a read aloud I almost always have 100% engagement. I often let them relax in bean bags in the book corner and they cozy up and get ready to listen. Who says read aloud and picture books are just for elementary school? 

My purpose in choosing books for the Middle School Level is to show them characters who had innovative ideas and did not let anyone or anything stop them from pursuing them. These are a few of my favorites that I have used or referred to.
  • frindle by Andrew Clements: This is perhaps my favorite lower level chapter book of all time. It is about a young boy who decided to re-invent the word for pen. I share this with students as a lesson to them that they are never too young to start a movement. I highly recommend this book as a read aloud or for independent reading. (intermediate school age 3rd-5th grade)
  • Going Places by Peter and Paul Reynolds: I was first introduced to this book by Katie Wears at a #TCRWP workshop a few years ago and fell in love instantly. It is about thinking outside the box, using your imagination, finding inspiration in the world around you and being a risk-taker. Although it is a picture book, the message is universal.  
  • What Do You Do With an Idea? by Kobi Yamada: This book has become a favorite book for me to buy as a gift, for adults. So often we have ideas that we would love to nurture and carry out and so often we let outsiders' thinking influence our perception of whether it is a good or bad idea. I have used this book with all my students. The message is they have amazing ideas, they should never let anyone tell them or let them think otherwise. They can do anything they set their minds to.
  • The Most Surprise I Have Ever Been by Jenny Slate and Dean Fleischer-Camp: Hilarious take on perspective. It teaches students that there are many perspectives to every situation. Even if you are a snail flying through the air in a house. We have to view the world through different viewpoints. 
  • The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman: This is a beautiful book written in rhyme that is meant for a younger audience. It shares the story of a family of seven children who put together their individual and unique likes to create an amazing finished product. 
  • If I Built a Car by Chris Van Dusen: Our students have active and wild imaginations. We should never stifle their creativity. What if you could build a car and add anything in the world to it? That's exactly what this boy did! 
So often, the idea of read alouds end as students enter the secondary level. Steven Layne does an excellent job of reminding us why reading a loud is so essential for all students. It allows all students to have a shared experience and be able to connect to a common text.

Time. Time is always a barrier. Layne shows us how we can creatively use texts to engage students in read aloud at the Middle School level. You are probably doing it and do not even realize it!

One way I incorporate read aloud is using current event articles that might be at a higher reading level or have mature content that needs to be discussed. I love reading aloud to my students! Even better are the conversations that follow.


Putting all these thoughts and ideas together that I learned, resulted in this box. I loved the idea of handing students a box of materials like in Going Places. That's exactly what I did. (Oddly enough, most of these materials were already in the room. Taking the Craft Store Hook from Teach Like a Pirate, you never know what you might find!)

Using the strategies from Upstanders and Learning to Choose Choosing to Learn the students were placed in teacher chosen groups to practice collaboration and communication.

My students have heard the book What Do You Do With an Idea? and Going Places over their 3 years with me. I always encourage their ideas, thoughts and creativity. I support them in risk-taking and challenge their thinking. 

I always want my classroom to feel like an experience. P is For Pirate reminds me that we need to, "....stretch our thinking and empower students to become creators and not just consumers of information."

The results? Please refer to my earlier blog post Delightful Designs for a photo gallery of fun and innovation.

What will your students create?


Friday, July 8, 2016

Our Students Are Watching & Listening

Powerful Opportunities

Dear Readers,

After Reading The Writing on the Classroom Wall, author Steve Wyborney challenged readers to create their own ideas to hang on the classroom wall. I asked him what advice he would give to those creating Big Ideas and using writing as a powerful tool for communication. He responded:

"My biggest advice would be to follow your heart and the flow of your writing."

I thought about what I would want my walls to say.  One idea I created was about power:

Over the past two years, the discussion of power has found its way into my instruction on a regular basis. I always tell my students the power they have as writers. Writing is an extremely powerful tool with the ability to reach people all around the world. They have amazing ideas and hearts and can do anything they set their minds to. They are never too young to make a difference. I think my letter to my 8th graders says it all:

We have an incredible opportunity and responsibility to our students. They learn about math, Language and Literature, science, Individuals and Societies, art, music, phys ed, technology, etc. 
  • How often are they taught about being a global citizen and their role(s) in society? 
  • What class teaches them about media literacy? 
  • Do we as educators embed these essential ideas into our instruction?
  • Do we consistently incorporate current events and take the time to discuss them?
  • "Do we realize the implication of silence?" (Beth Houf)
  • "Do we realize what happens when we don't tell the story?" (Beth Houf)

Master the Media: How Teaching Media Literacy Can Save Our Plugged-In World

This book was a game-changer for me as a middle school teacher. It really made me look at media literacy differently and the power that it has, positive and/or negative. It also made me realize our students are living in a global community filled with news, videos, etc. We need to teach them how to process the vast amount of information they see on a daily basis. As a class we have discussed news reports, interview questions, advertisements, targeted audiences, music, TV, etc. 
  • "Do the kids realize the power media have over us?" (Julie N. Smith)
  • "Do they realize THEY have power to tell a story?" (Julie N. Smith)
I had the opportunity to incorporate some of what I learned during the Paris Attacks in November 2015. 

The Photo that Sparked an Important Teaching Moment

(source: The World Post

1st Viewing: I was showing students clips from the attacks. We were talking about journalism. Their initial reaction was this was a woman jumping to her death to get away from the violence. 

2nd Viewing: As we gathered more information and time passed, we realized it was actually an expectant mother who was trying to save herself and her baby.

Discussion that Followed: We make assumptions based on what we see, our emotions and the context being provided. 

"Upon seeing something upsetting, we might form a judgement on the situation without knowing the whole story-and we cannot depend on today's news media to ever tell us the whole story. Even if they attempt to, the story is quickly followed by another." (pg. 64 Master the Media)

Additional Instruction: Based on student responses, I knew we had to look more closely at news being reported on this tragedy. I showed them contrasting texts, from two different viewpoints and discussed the purpose, bias and intended audience. In addition we looked at several news clips and discussed the same. 

Ethical vs. Unethical?

An end of the year discussion we had as an 8th grade Language & Literature Class concerned ethics. We defined what ethical and unethical meant to use. I distributed different informational texts and posed the question of ethics. It led to further discussion of, if we consider it unethical, is it sometimes necessary? Our students are amazing thinkers, we just have to listen to them.

Upstanders: How to Engage Middle School Hearts and Minds with Inquiry

This was a second game-changer that I discovered. In continuing my thinking about media literacy, it led me to thinking about the roles of society. Daniels and Ahmed title them upstanders, bystanders, victims and perpetrators. What was/is the relationship between these and media literacy?

We discussed, at length, the various roles in society. Additionally, we asked many questions.
  • Can an individual be more than one role? 
  • Can his/her role change over time? 
  • What is a bystander? 
  • Can a bystander be both negative and positive?
  • What characteristics does an upstander have?
  • How can we be upstanders?
  • What makes us bystanders? 

My "AHA" Moments

What is one of THE most important lessons I learned? Students need to be taught how to collaborate and respectfully disagree with one another. These are not skills and strategies that come naturally I found out when I put them in their first "debate" like setting. My expectation was clear:

"In my classroom, you are going to learn how to collaborate, discuss and disagree in a respectful manner. " This led to other Big Ideas:
  • Active Listening is part of participating in discussions.
  • Respectfully offering other viewpoints to consider is collaboration.

A misconception students have, that I also discovered, is that introverts are not as powerful as extroverts. They had the mindset that if they were "quiet" and "not speaking" a lot then they were not contributing. This led to a very important lesson on the power of introverts and extroverts. I always have private conversations and support them as a learner and leader. I shared many of these in my Anchors of Appreciation (Beth Houf & Shelley Burgess). How often does a student hear, "I appreciate the way you sit back, listen, process and formulate a response?"

An Important Post from My Friend Julie N. Smith

I reached out to my Media Mentor and friend Julie, author of Master the Media: How Teaching Media Literacy Can Save Our Plugged-in World to collaborate with me on this blog. Her message is on-target with what we are dealing with as a global community. A sincere thank you for taking the time to write this!

Julie's Powerful Post

Following Teresa's ideas on POWER, I'd like to join in and ask if our students recognize the power that the media have in defining our world for us. Especially in the drama-driven news of the last wee, do we realize the power they have in shaping our perceptions of people, places and events?

What's most interesting about the power that the media have (in my opinion) is that they do NOT have our best interests at heart. Many claim that the media are biased toward conservatives or toward liberals. The truth is that the media is biased toward money. We are told what we want to hear rather than what we need to hear-so that the audiences will stay, and the ratings will increase.

The bias isn't wrong or illegal (Why do we expect objectivity, anyway? Really?) but we need to be aware of it. For example, would your students be able to guess the intended audience of each of these covers?

Story is the same. The headlines and presentation of the story, however, is completely different. This is immense power.

orlando covers.JPG

What power do our students WANT the media to have over them?  Like most of us, they will deny that the media have that much effect on their perceptions of the world.  But since we are surrounded by media almost constantly, it’s difficult to claim that SOME of this doesn’t sink in.

What’s the solution?  Frank classroom discussions.  Ask tough questions. Questions that perhaps they haven’t considered.
  • Who is sending the message?
  • What is their motive or intent? How do they want us to feel?
  • What words, photos do they use to get us to feel this way?
  • Is there any information left out?
  • Do you feel they did a good job telling the story?
  • In what ways could other people interpret this story?

And, sadly, in many cases we should ask them questions like THIS:
  • Do you think it is appropriate to use a photo like this?
  • Why or why not?
  • What are some reasons for using this photo on the cover?
  • What are some reasons for NOT using this photo?
Once we learn to really analyze, evaluate and deconstruct media messages, perhaps we lessen their power.  We owe it to our students to teach them how.

Questions to Consider Concerning School Cultures and Practices

I also reached out to one of my leader mentors as well, Shelley Burgess. She posed some important and difficult questions to think about.
  • Who are students most often disciplined? Suspended? Expelled?
  • Who do we most often place in special education?
  • What practices do we have in place to encourage, promote and celebrate diversity in our school? Community? Globally?
  • Who are the students who win awards and top honors vs. those who win "most improved" or most athletic?

It made me reflect on some questions of my own.
  • What do we value in education?
  • How do we show those values?
  • What do our school cultures and practices depict about our beliefs?
  • Are we unintentionally (or intentionally) sending messages to students about people, society, etc?
Think about how you can use your walls, to encourage your students to be upstanders and media literate, global individuals.



Saturday, July 2, 2016

What do your walls say to students?

What Do Your Walls Say to Students?

Dear Readers,

As I went through my admin program, I took a class on teacher evaluation. One of the tasks was to walk through a teacher's classroom and "read it". Could I tell what was important to the teacher and his/her instruction just by looking at the walls?

It was very eye-opening as I discovered walls are sometimes covered just to look "pretty". Why are educators seemingly afraid of blank wall space?

Everything that hangs on a wall should be purposeful and help guide learners to independence. In addition, walls should "change" throughout the year. Just like we plan instruction, we need to plan our wall space. 

Questions I consider are:
  • Did I buy it in a store or did students create this? You will not find many "store bought" quotes hanging in my room. However you will find student created pieces of art with their chosen quotes.
  • Is this part of our learning? If not, it's probably not going on the wall.
  • Can students use this to become independent learners? If not, it's probably not going on the wall.
  • Does it make students feel like it is their classroom? My playlist may not foster independent thinkers and learners, but it definitely creates a feeling of "our learning space".
  • Why? If I don't know why I am hanging something, then it definitely shouldn't be up there!

The Writing On the Classroom Wall

I have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of this book! It did not disappoint! In fact, I read through it at lightening speed, only a day! Author, @stevewyborney was gracious enough to discuss the book almost as I read it! A sincere thank you for taking the time to read and respond to my thoughts. 

Steve writes about 24 Big Ideas. I made connections to many of them in my own instruction and classroom. In fact, I was inspired to start creating some of my own Big Ideas! 

With Steve's permission, these are quotes, ideas and thoughts that made me stop and think.

The Power of Anchor Charts
"I learned that there is great power in letting opportunities linger." (pg. 17)

When we post anchor charts, we are leaving a footprint or blueprint of learning. They are so vitally important in developing independent learners. I personally post them for each unit, change them as needed and revisit them when appropriate. I have even made what I refer to as "traveling words walls" that students can pull out and put away.

Big Idea 4: Reading Is About Making Meaning
"When we read, we are extremely active thinkers who are purposefully making meaning." (pg. 26)

We cannot do the thinking for our students. As educators, we need to give them the tools, skills and strategies to make meaning on their own. One of my favorite strategies is annotating texts whether it be directly in the text or using post-it notes. It allows students to interact with the text, question the text and look back at previous thoughts and insights. 

Big Idea #5: Writing Is About Making Meaning
"Writing does not happen after thinking. Writing fuels thinking, generates thinking, is thinking, and leads to more and deeper thinking." (pg. 31)

I always keep a writer's notebook alongside my students. By the end of the year it is one of my most prized possessions. Writing can be long or short, it can be lists, organizers, story arcs, words, phrases, sentences, essays, papers or books. I keep samples of the writing process for students to refer back to. My notebook is an anchor for them to develop independence as well.


Big Idea 14: You are amazing! Expect much of yourself!
"Our beliefs about our students will deeply impact our students' beliefs in themselves." (pg. 91) 

Every educator needs to read this chapter. These are a few of the ways I communicate to my students how incredible they are!

I share things I want them to know about me to establish relationships and make connections.

I wrote to each student and told them why he/she is important to me, our class, this world, etc.

I have given out paper plate awards. Each student gets one and I write the reason why he/she received it.

I dropped MANY anchors of appreciation this year! Thank you Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf for the amazing idea!

I write letters to my students throughout the year.

Big Idea 18: Discover a Question

I actually put up a student parking lot this past year, with post-its attached for all the "questions" and "wonders" my students had that were not relevant to instruction. It was a great place to unload those thoughts so they could focus on our learning. 

Heading into our first ever, modified Genius Hour evoked many thoughts, insights, wonders, etc. The students just wrote down anything that came to mind. We then used those as anchor learning to revise and rewrite research questions.

During our journalism unit, students needed to report on a live event. One portion of it prompted these questions for our Assistant Principal regarding one of the components of Morning Meeting.

Probably one of the best examples of questioning came when I handed small groups a box filled with these materials and said, "Do what you like! We will share at the end of class!"

"I challenge you to take the first steps. Choose a Big Idea, write it on your wall, and let the journey begin." (pg. 168)

I took on this challenge as I read through the book. Here are some of my Big Ideas:
  • Reading is embarking on a journey of confirming and acquiring knowledge.
  • Writing is personal, brave and taking risks.
  • Active listening is part of participating in discussions.
  • Respectfully offering other viewpoints to consider is collaboration.
  • Empathy is thinking outside yourself to understand others' struggles and triumphs, etc.
  • Identity is something that lives inside you and can only be taken away if you allow it to.
  • Power is being an Upstander and standing up for what you believe in regardless of what others say or do.
In total, I ended up with 19 Big Ideas! I intend to implement them into my classroom next year as I refine and revise them.

May your walls speak volumes to your students!