Blog #5 on Technology

Today’s discussion focused on tech implementation in the classroom, and what strategies might work for struggling readers. The article I read was on digital storytelling, which I had a little bit of background in when I worked as a reporter. The article focused on the improvements that three students made after being exposed to digital storytelling methods.

In order to effectively use this as a tool for improving writing, the teacher needs to have some ground-rules or at least some explicit parameters and expectations. There is also a significant learning curve for the teachers, especially if using tech in the classroom is a new idea. I have been fortunate at my school because we have a well-established 1:1 MacBook program, and many of the students are quite adept at using the tools on the laptops. I have had to consult students for help with programs like iMovie and QuickTime, so when I’ve designed a project for the class I find many of the kids quite engaged because we are accessing skills they feel confident with.

In designing their projects the students need to keep process journals. They also need to construct a script for their presentation, and if necessary a storyboard. A good digital storytelling presentation should have the following seven parts: point of view, dramatic question, emotional content, economy, pacing, voice, and soundtrack (though you could amend parts of this and still have a decent project). Having these elements not only creates a more compelling narrative, it provides organization for staying on task. It also gives students with skill-sets other than writing to shine in their work.

The groups were a bit rushed today because of the graduation rehearsal and afternoon presentations, but overall we had a pretty useful discussion. What I found even more fun though were the tools for presentation that Jim Lattanzi put on our class wiki. I had a lot of fun playing around with a couple of the modules, and look forward to talking to the tech guys at our school to see what we already have and to see what we can use. I have to say that the process of blogging during this course was really a good way to get our thoughts out in a genuine way. Not that we don’t edit what we think before typing it down. I will continue to promote that when I get back to my classroom.



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Jigsaw Activity #3

For today’s activity we listened to three Radio Lab podcasts related to the development of language and thinking skills. For those of you new to Radio Lab, it’s pretty awesome storytelling, and I highly recommend it, as well as This American Life, especially this one. Okay, done with the plugs.

The podcasts focused on the language and thinking of those who were without language. The first story was about a sign language interpreter and teacher who meets a 27-year-old man she calls Ildefonso. Ildefonso was born deaf and had no idea was sound or language was. Teacher Susan Schaller worked with him for weeks, trying to teach sign language, where he would only mimic her.  But then she witnessed something incredible when he finally made the connection she was trying to make.  I wanted to share what she had to say because it was kind of a big deal. By the way, you can download the transcript of these shows for free (sorry, last plug). She’s teaching him one day when she notices him shift position and stand up wild-eyed. “He looked around the room—this is a 27 year old man— and he looks around the room as if he had just landed from Mars and it was the first time he had ever saw anything. Something was about to happen. He slaps his hands on the table.  “Oh! Everything has a name!’”

We talked in out group about how wild their story was, or the one of the 50 Nicaraguan children, born deaf, with no language training of any kind, ended up creating their own language. They were from different families and areas of Nicaragua, and were sent to a school for the deaf set up by the dictator’s wife.The children came with no common signs for basic things, but after the children were together for a while they develop their own signs, and eventually it becomes a system of its own. Younger students add to the mix with new signs, refined and complex. The younger students begin developing deeper thinking skills than their older peers, but when the younger students shared their innovations the language became richer. That got us talking about thinking. Do you need language to think?

One researcher said that real thinking doesn’t begin until age six. While children can mimic and obtain reasonable intelligence, real thinking doesn’t start until they begin to really speak internally. I’m not sure if I completely agree, but it depends on what is considered thinking. It kind of steps all over the multiple intelligence stuff I just read for another class. The point is that their thinking developed much faster once they acquired language. Even Ildefonso couldn’t be content where he was after his mind explosion. He’ll never be the same. We discussed in our group what thinking might entail. I think I tried to argue the the modern evolution of cockroaches actually shows that a change in taste desires helped them evade poison bait–which is made with sugar–and tried to relate that somehow with making choices, which I put with making connections. It was a poor example and it fell kind of flat. I guess I’m not sure if I agree that actual thinking begins that late. Maybe reflection is missing, but is reflection a necessity for thinking? What about psychopathy?

Overall we had a pretty good discussion.

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Jigsaw Vocabulary Activity #2

Our second jigsaw activity for this course focused on teaching vocabulary. Instead of going off the rail summarizing everything we discussed I want to explore some of the concepts we talked about in our small groups. We talked about fluency and the challenges of decoding while trying to keep pace with the class, we explored generative vocabulary instruction (I had to read that one a couple times), we looked at vocab collection strategies, we even got into a discussion on morphological knowledge. We kind of over-dosed on morphemes.

Basically good vocabulary is important for world peace. An interesting factoid from yesterday’s class was from a Ted talk from educator Kelly Corrigan. She said that Arizona predicts its number of prison beds based on the percentage of fourth graders who can read well. She also had some shocking statistics for reading after we are finished with school. “Read more,” she pleads. “Reading is the ultimate neuro-biological workout.” She went on to explain the importance of vocabulary in effective communication. I couldn’t stop thinking about this video when we were in our groups.

We looked at some similar strategies that focused on breaking words down to their parts–into their morphemes, or the smallest bits of words that have meaning–so that that the reader can expand on vocabulary knowledge. The article on generative vocabulary instruction stated that understanding the roots of words could help decode meaning of related words and potentially expand vocabulary knowledge. Seventy percent of English words have Latin or Greek prefixes, suffixes or roots. By examining these parts of the words, and by finding words which share those same parts, readers can build a deeply grounded vocabulary. This helps to produce readers who are engaged more fully with the content.

When we talked about fluency, one of the challenges discussed was that instruction time is often misused with de-coding responses. If time had been used to assess the student understanding early on, then the student would have more time to complete reading tasks without becoming frustrated or bored. By breaking the words down first, we can help them look at the meanings of the parts, and work on constructing new and effective content vocabulary.

I have used a couple different pre-reading assessments and vocabulary exercises in my current classroom thanks to a teacher who likes to look at root words. She gets crazy excited about it, actually. The students seem pretty receptive to braking down vocabulary. They spend some time brainstorming possible combinations of the individual morphemes. They even constructed mini-posters showing the meaning of a word of their choosing. It was an engaging way to explore vocabulary.

Another common conversation thread was about overloading information. Most of the articles agreed that seven to eight new words a week was as much as average beginning readers can reasonably handle. If students write about their progress and process, however, that will increase, as will their writing abilities. Writing, in addition to more reading,  has to be a major component of vocabulary instruction. Otherwise students will be reading for nothing.

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Jigsaw Activity Reflection #1

One of the challenges of promoting literacy is motivating kids to read. What are they interested in reading? What purpose is there to reading in the first place? In our content literacy class we participated in a jigsaw learning activity, where pods of us were organized into “expert groups,” and were responsible for reading and presenting about an article related to reading motivation. Each group’s article focused on different strategies and issues with motivating literacies, and there were several common themes and ideas.

The group who presented Texts That Matter shared that finding memorable texts from a variety of text types was important for inspiring reading. They spoke about how conventional texts can gloss over the “cool stuff,” or the interesting facts and ideas that make a text more engaging. Finding memorable texts makes promoting literacy much easier in the long run, since trying to motivate a student to read a boring text may take up more time than giving a student some choice in what they read. Obviously this takes a little bit of planning, but when a teacher can find a variety of texts with similar information for content requirements (such as learning about feudalism or a world war for school curriculum requirements) students can become engaged with the unit sooner than if they’d been turned off in the first place.

In Revisiting the Read Aloud we looked at student engagement and involvement through, as you might have guessed from the title, reading aloud. The group discussed the importance of pitch, pacing and tone and what their impacts are on enjoyable reading. Reading aloud helps language development, especially with students who may be learning outside of their mother tongue. Some strategies suggested were using Alpha Boxes, which according to the article “Alphaboxes can take the form of a pre-reading or a post-reading activity to help stimulate students to think about and discuss key ideas in the text. For example, while notating examples under the appropriate alphabet letter in each box, students can generate questions; highlight important concepts; make connections; provide explanations; locate, identify, and discuss unfamiliar words; and present different points of view.” I’ve never seen these before, but here is an example of what an Alpha Box could like like. Some examples can be found on this link. We also discussed the importance of modeling text-to-self connections, text-to-text connections, and text-to-world connections. This also requires a bit of pre-reading so that questions can be modeled for students to explore connections, which promotes higher level learning.

In Reading Motivation: a Focus on English Learners we discussed the importance of establishing literacy in order to facilitate student connections to their peers. This requires a variety of many different text types. When English learners are motivated readers they will see how English contributes to other literacy skills. Literature circles, book clubs and reading buddies are great at promoting the social aspect of reading, and this can contribute to building confident interpersonal skills as well.

In Making Textbook Reading Meaningful we discussed strategies for motivating kids to read informational texts. While we had discussed in class the downside of textbooks, they are something that most classrooms will no doubt still use. Developing dedication requires that a variety of texts must be used to best engage student readers to go deeper. “Instead of offering a curriculum that is a mile wide and an inch deep, they provide in-depth units of study in which students have a chance to read extensively and deeply about topics.” (Guthrie, Klauda) Students can find textbooks intimidating, so finding supplemental texts to assist in understanding content and concepts is important.

In the article about motivating boys to read (sorry, the title is crazy long) we talked about the challenges of getting adolescent boys to read. They said that between 70 to 80 percent lack reading motivation. I could relate a lot to what the group shared and agreed with the strategies that were mentioned, which included: using non-fiction texts, using shorter texts, using book series, using a variety of texts, and using male role models for both reading and writing. One of the interesting suggestions was to let boys explore writing about violence.

In What teachers can learn about reading motivation through conversations with children we looked at what and who motivated kids to read. Through conversations with different classes of kids, researchers found that kids are strongly influenced by the parents’ influence with literacy, particularly through the mother. It also found that librarian and teacher suggestions also played heavily into student choices. But it seemed that the biggest influence on what kids read is by looking at what their peers are reading. Word of mouth among friends seemed to be the biggest influence on kids’ reading. Children also like spending time in their school libraries. Kids are more prone to read if they’ve been able to choose their own texts. They are also motivated by the knowledge they gain from the texts, and if that aligns with their own personal interests then the connection to literacy is going to be stronger.

As a whole the Jigsaw activity was informative, though it seemed rushed by the time we got to the end of class. Overall we tended to agree with each other lots of different points, but we didn’t have as much time for discussion as I had hoped. Good exercise and exploration of these reading, however.


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A Personal Literary History

I love reading, although I have had precious little time to read for pleasure since I’ve been enrolled in my classes with the College of New Jersey. For my content area literacy class this summer, one of my last requirements before reaching my teaching certificate, we have been asked to keep a blog. It’s been a while since I’ve kept this blog thing up, so thanks in advance for your patience. This next installment is about personal history with reading.

I have fond memories of reading with my grandparents, both on my mother’s and my father’s side of the family. My dad’s folks took an especially keen interest in promoting literacy. My earliest memories of reading are flipping through the pages of National Geographic and Sunset magazine staring in awe at the pictures. My grandparents would give me a gift subscription to National Geographic, which I continued to subscribe to until I moved to Hong Kong. My grandpa Woodard loved Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey westerns. He was also a history enthusiast as well as a Pentecostal minister. Reading the Bible was a big part of my early reading, and we spent a lot of summers at Bible camp memorizing verses discussing the stories.
The very first book I remember reading, however, was a Dr. Suess book called The Lorax. I still have the book in storage in Oregon. The cover is long gone, and the pages are held together with an oversized binder clip. Books became pretty important to me early on. I love reading history, and was especially interested in stories from World War 2. I would read books about battles in the the South Pacific, from Leyte Gulf and Corregidor, to heroic stories of the marines at Guadalcanal. I guess it was no surprise that I found non-fiction much more interesting than what we were meant to read at school, but then reading for me was an escape from school … which I hated.

I despised reading in class in front of others. I would get nervous, sweating profusely from every pore on my body. Speaking in front of my classmates terrified me. I also didn’t find what we were reading terribly interesting. It seemed as if reading was another chore of school that needed to be done. I saw little purpose to what we were reading, until my rhetoric teacher came along. She also loved non-fiction, and she encouraged us to write our own stories about our own lives. Unfortunately she only stayed at our school for a year, but she left a lasting impression on my growth as a reader and writer.

I started reading different newspapers from the library every day. I spent most of my free time during school at the library, which had been newly constructed before I reached high school. I also spent countless hours at my hometown library. Sometimes I would just grab a book and sit in the aisle reading. I knew all of the librarians. The library had an orange and white cat that someone dropped in the bookdrop one winter. The cat’s name was Dewey. One of the librarians wrote a book about Dewey which became wildly popular worldwide.
When I left home for the army I began reading philosophy and poetry as well as history. My choices made me a bit of a target for ridicule in the barracks. I was nicknamed “the Nerd” because I always had a book in my pocket. Any time I had duty I had a book. Any free time in the motor pool I was reading. After I got out of the army I stopped reading as much. I didn’t check the news. I had kind of dropped out of society. The only things I read for a couple of years were self-published books by anarchists and activists that talked about how messed up the world was, but in the middle of this depressive spiral I found that some of the memoirs that these activists were writing was a genre of non-fiction I had never been exposed to before. I began reading about punk rock subculture and anarchist activism with violent books like Red London, Among the Thugs and others, to the letters of Emma Goldman and the Howard Zinn classic A People’s History of the United States. Then I read Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, which is a dark tale set in the Congo during Belgium’s imperialist era in Africa. The impact that his book had on the appalling practices the Belgians inflicted on their African workers was an example of what good writing can do.
I entered a journalism program in San Francisco, where I was surrounded by bright people with crazy ideas and stronger ideals. I felt reborn. I began to read other non-fiction authors, but expanded to reading other genres as well. I’m not going to list any more books because I honestly lost count of which books I read and who wrote them. I always admired Hunter S. Thompson as a writer, and his book Hells Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs is one of my all-time favorite reads, even though he was pretty much a train wreck of a human being.


Eric Larson, who wrote Devil in the White City and In the Garden of Beasts is one of my current favorites, as is former marine officer and New York Times journalist C.J. Chivers, author of The Gun, which is a history of the AK-47 that examines the origins and proliferation of automatic arms, and their influence on war, crime and violence. These two authors, who use totally different writing styles, use exhaustive research which adds to their credibility as writers in my eyes. Like I said earlier, I love reading history



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Jigsaw #1 activity on motivation for Jim Lattanzi’s class

Hey guys, This is a mock-up for a class activity I am currently taking at for my teaching credential in Bangkok this summer. Here is a link to a short video I found inspiring.

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USS Carl Vinson visits Hong Kong

Okay, I’m not going to say much about this, because anything we think we know can be negated and challenged by people trying to keep a secret … anyways, the USS Carl Vincent, a massive Nimitz-class supercarrier, has been doing a little tour of Southeast Asia and made a port of call in Hong Kong for the past few days. It was reported as being the vessel from which Osama Bin Laden took his final dip in the drink.

We took some kids there. It is a floating airport with 18 stories–NO ELEVATORS–and 7,000 crew members. Also, it has a ton of ordinance for all of the aircraft on board. This ship is an engineering masterpiece, and also cost as much as many countries GDP combined.

The ship is in Hong Kong to resupply before heading to its home port in San Diego, California. No doubt the denizens of Wan Chai saw roving packs of yoked sailors on shore leave over the past two nights.

The sailors on board were friendly, and it was nice to talk to folks from home about … well, home.

Thanks to the parents who helped organize this trip.

More notes from Vietnam later this week.

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