Last night I spent some time at Smithville School where Suzy Kline, author of the Horrible Harry series, was sharing her experiences as a writer with students, parents, and staff. Suzy’s presentation totally engaged everyone in the room regardless of age, profession, whatever. For me, the sterling moment came when Suzy actually held up her own notebook and talked about how she carries it with her and makes notes to record experiences. In fact, she had several notebooks, a scrapbook, drafts…Even better, Suzy gave examples of things in her notebooks that she actually used in her published books. What a moment! Although I was already sold on writer’s notebook, Suzy Kline’s presentation affirmed my belief that the time we have spent developing and implementing writer’s notebook is worthwhile.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that Smithville School is acknowledged in Horrible Harry and The Goog with the Smithville boiler room being the source for an illustration. You’ll have to read the book to understand this reference. Kudos to Smithville School and heartfelt appreciation to Suzy Kline!
This week, we combined two of my favorite things going right now: The Writer’s Notebook and Voicethread. It all began about a week ago… I took my third graders to the computer lab to show them how to create pictures using Max Write. Their pictures were then saved, printed, and placed in the “Marvelous Mini-Lessons” section of their Notebooks. The next day, we read two stories that featured several similes (Quick as a Cricket and Owl Moon). After reading, students had to create a list of 20 sentences that each contained a simile to describe their picture. Then, they worked with a partner to rework and refine their sentences. Next, they uploaded their pictures into Voicethread and they had to “gimme” their ten best simile sentences which were recorded onto their Voicethread picture. What was so awesome about this lesson was how diligent the kids were about writing their similes. Since it was going to be on the Internet “for all the world to see,” they worked so hard to create really great similes so that they would look like “a really smart bunch of third graders!” You should have seen how many thesauruses and dictionaries were being passed around!
Today I was observing a teacher of 8th grade language arts during writing. At one point during the lesson, his students were asked to share “bling and brag” from their most recent persuasive pieces. Lo and behold, several students shared examples of hyphenated modifiers and magic threes. These techniques had been introduced during writer’s notebook activities – transfer in action…wow! Kudos to teacher Jeff Morris and his students (and to Janice Malone for her collaboration with them).
Sometimes, resources shared with teachers can take on a life of their own. At a recent training session focusing on implementing the technology standards for students, I shared a site called “Build Your Wild Self.” I learned about this site from reading Kevin Jarrett’s blog. Kevin is an amazing technology teacher in the Nothfield school district. He proposed using the site for creating avatars (digital representations of a person) and for learning about science.
The site is sponsored by New York Zoos and Aquarium and the Wildlife Conservation. It allows students to create a digital picture of themselves. They can go further and create a “wild image” that contains various animal body parts. The site then goes on to explain how these adaptations actually help the animal.
I originally taught teachers to use the site to create avatars for their students to use with a product called Voicethread, a wonderful collaborative web 2.0 tool that allows multiple people to comment on a document using a microphone. Brian Dunn, a n innovative 5th grade teacher, taught his students to use these avatars in voicethread as they posted on blogs for a literature circle project. For instance, one student reading Mansion in the Mist posted this blog entry where he uploaded a picture related to the chapter of the novel and commented about it. As you view the post, you can see the avatars of various people who commented on his entry including his teacher, the school librarian, and other students.
Although this was my original plan for using the “Build Your Wild Self” site, I learned that some staff members used it as a springboard for a writer’s notebook entry. Teachers have brought their class down to the lab and let their students “go wild.” After they completed their picture, they learned about the animal adaptations they had chosen. Finally, they went back to the classroom to write an entry about the experience in their writer’s notebooks.
It is exciting for me to see how teachers take resources and use them in a variety of ways to meet their individual needs.
In December, the TLF’s presented training for Writer’s Notebook. I attended a portion at each school and, of course, the workshops were extremely well done. Although I believe in the concept and most of the feedback was positive, I still wasn’t sure how our teachers (and students) would embrace the notebook. Well, yesterday was a great moment (for me at least) in our Writer’s Notebook implementation. Out on the observation trail, I arrived to a 3rd grade classroom during morning time. Students were completing various activties and an exciting thing happened – several students totally without prompting took out their writer’s notebooks and began adding an entry. How hard it was not to hug the teacher and students and cheer loudly right in the classroom! Of course, I plan to tell the teacher during our post observation conference and will certainly share the story with anyone who will listen. Kudos to Katie Chisholm and her students! This raised further my level of belief in writer’s notebook. Let’s see what happens! (And with your input perhaps, I need to decide whether or not to capitalize Writer’s Notebook…or is it writer’s notebook?) ~Annette Giaquinto