Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Summer Vacation? #SOL15


As I contemplated setting my alarm for 4 am to be able to write my Slice (I didn't- writing this at 5:20 am instead), I am thinking about what I've been doing so far on my "summer vacation":

  • I co-facilitated the Long Island Writing Project Summer Institute for 8 days (9am-4pm)
  • Reading Jen Serravallo's Reading Strategies as part of a Voxer book club.
  • Read A Handful of Stars as part of a writing about reading book club and participated in the Twitter chat.
  • Rereading Fish in a Tree as a small group thinking about writing about reading for an upcoming Twitter chat.
  • Read Digital Reading: What's Essential in Grades 3-8 as part of #cyberPD and Twitter chat tonight.
  • Trying to read a #bookaday to keep up with the blog I created for reading, http://sokolowskibookbonanza.blogspot.com/
  • Writing my first post for our Two Writing Teachers blog series and thinking of ideas for the rest of the August posts I will need to write.
  • Participating in a 4 day workshop this week at #LiLit15 for reading and writing workshops.
  • Made a Donors Choose project to try to get magazines for my classroom library.
  • Creating a new class webpage through Weebly
Still left to do:
  • Read the stack of professional books I bought and want to finish, including The Unstoppable Writing Teacher, Word Nerds, Notebook Know-How, Notebook Connections, and Guided Math in Action.
  • Set up Kidblog and Bibilionasium accounts for my new students.
  • All the prep for the school year- locker name tags, student desk tags, reorganizing my classroom library into the new bins I bought, planning the first week of school.
  • Read the stack of children's literature books I brought home so I could be more familiar with my library and be able to recommend more books.
All of these activities were self-chosen.  No one made me do a single thing on the list and I've been learning so much this summer.  I'm just....a little tired today.  Thinking of relaxing on the beach, fruity cocktail in hand, book unrelated to teaching in my lap, nothing to hear but the crash of the waves, smelling the salty, coconuty air. Maybe I need to add "relaxing" to my summer to-do list. Off to class today but maybe next week I will finally get to the beach this summer. 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Marvelous Magazines- a Donors Choose project




Every summer, I dream about my new class. I wonder what the students will be like and how I can design the classroom to create quality learning experiences. I read professional books to learn more about my craft, children's books so I can recommend them to my students, and I buy new bins to house all these books. I dream of ways to help each child become a reader for life- a person who chooses to read many different things for many different purposes.

I've heard of Donors Choose and this summer, as I dream of all the possibilities for my third grade students, I decided to give it a try.  My project is to add classroom magazines to our library so students can read from different genres and across content areas in real-world, engaging ways.  I've been a magazine reader since I was a young child and still love when one of my favorites gets delivered to my house! Due to financial issues, not every student is able to get magazines delivered to his home.  At school, we can level the playing field a bit and give kids opportunities to read and become familiar with different magazines. 

All of this brings me to my Donors Choose project: http://www.donorschoose.org/project/marvelous-magazines-to-engage-readers/1607572/?rf=email-system-2015-07-proposal_approve-teacher_2988379&challengeid=20605619&utm_source=dc&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=proposal_approve&utm_swu=4258

For this week only, until August 1, if you donate to this project and use the promo code SPARK, donations up to $100 will be matched, making it even more possible to reach my goal of obtaining classroom magazines!

Please share this post with anyone you think might be inclined to make a contribution to this project! Thank you so much!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

#cyberPD Digital Reading Ch 6 and 7

It has been so enlightening to read the book Digital Reading: What Really Matters Grades 3-8 as part of the #cyberPD community. Reading a book on your own but then using digital tools to connect your thinking to a broader community really epitomizes what the book is suggesting for educators! The ideas shared in this community have really inspired me and showed me new tools that I plan to use next year. For example:

Reading Cathy Mere's post about having a hub for the important sites your class visits made me inspired to create a new class site through Weebly. I currently have a teacher page on my school's webpage but I would love to update to a Weebly with more possibilities! I need to do a better job of organizing all our online places and make it easy for parents to access all the tools we are offering.

Megan Skogstad's reflection on Chapters 6 and 7 introduced me to the digital newsletter site, Smore. This looks like an incredible way to keep parents and others in the loop! Megan also spoke about using Google Drive to organize student digital portfolios. I am so excited to set this up and try my own this year. 

Regarding Chapter 6, I like how Franki described including digital reading experiences as part of a beginning of the year inventory. Some other ideas on digital tools for assessment:

-Kidblog as a way to assess student writing over time. Students can be asked to blog about a book each month and that can become part of their writing about reading assessments.

-Biblionasium can be used to keep track of student reading. When students complete a book, they can add it to their shelf. They can also recommend books to friends and write book reviews.

-Google forms can be used and then put in the student's digital portfolio. 

Regarding Chapter 7 and parent communication, I am hoping to:
-create a new class site through Weebly.
-use Smore for weekly newsletters
-continue using our class Twitter account
-create digital portfolios to share with parents at conferences

I look forward to continuing to learn with this community! This was such a great learning experience for me.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

You Must Tell Them This #SOL15


Last week, I described the experience of listening to Dr. Linda Opyr read her poems and talk about the life of a teacher turned writer. This was part of a workshop through the Long Island Writing Project Summer Institute, which I was co-facilitating. We were also joined by the Long Island Writing Project Creative Writing Retreat for Teens. One of Dr. Opyr's poems was entitled, "You Must Tell Them This" which provided inspiration for my poem. I shared this piece with the teachers of the LIWP Summer Institute on our last day together it was my submission it into the publication we created.

You Must Tell Them This
(Inspired by Linda Opyr)
By Kathleen Sokolowski

You must tell them this:
Teaching chose me.
It's broken, expanded, and filled my heart,
and I've learned more than I taught.

You must tell them why I became a teacher-
to be the lantern
lighting the way to literacy and learning
to show students that your choices matter-
your words and actions always count.

You must tell them I always wanted to be better.
Never felt the complacency of “good enough.”
Never thought of teaching as just a job
or a paycheck or 10 months until summers off.
You can’t take a vacation from yourself-
and I am a teacher.

When they speak to you of data points, rigor, and fidelity,
tell them I never saw my students as numbers,
never felt that reading a script from a page
deserved my faithfulness.
Names and stories are what live in my heart.

They can save their Danielson rubrics,
their ranking and rating and sorting.
Assigning me a number and a label
could never inspire a passion or ignite a flame
that wasn’t already burning within me.

When the scores are published
and blaming fingers point at teachers
judging, criticizing, bemoaning,
beseech of them that one number
does not tell the whole story,
cannot sum up a year of living,
breathing, struggling, succeeding,
sharing, listening, laughing,
crying.
Growing.

You must tell them this:
Good teaching has never been about
one measure on one test
on one day.
It's about every day,
every moment,
bringing the best of yourself
and sharing your failures,
showing students the honorable struggle
to lead a worthy life
not measured by income, grades, trophies,
but by the kindness shown,
by tolerance, acceptance, understanding offered.
By finding your place in this world
and then doing what you can do
to make it better.

Tell them to keep their merit pay.
Tell them to stuff their "highly effectives."
Tell them the little girl who asked Santa Claus
for teacher books and supplies
and played school for fun for years
and dreamed of being a teacher
and worked hard to become one
and is still trying each day to be a better one,
tell them she doesn't need them to define her.
She learns from her students each day.
Her heart has broken, filled and expanded.
Teaching chose her.
And despite them and their efforts to paint her
As inept, greedy, lazy, failing,
she still chooses to teach.

You must tell them this.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

#cyberPD Digital Reading: Chapters 3-5


I am participating in an online book discussion of Digital Reading: What's Essential in Grades 3-8 by Franki Sibberson and William Bass. Join us at #CyberPD!

Reflections on Chapters 3-5

Authentic. Intentional. Connected. 

To me, these chapters are about using technology in real ways, for specific reasons, and to form deeper communities around literacy. What struck me is how students who are in these authentic, intentional, and connected classrooms easily move between the digital and print worlds. 

Here are some ways I envision my third graders using digital tools in authentic, intentional, and connected ways:

*Participating in the Global Read Aloud Project. 
Reading Fish in a Tree and taking notes in a notebook, composing a blog post about a reaction to the book, skyping or Google Hangout with another third grade, collaborating on a Google Doc about the book with each other or other classes, tweeting our questions or comments to Lynda Mullaly Hunt, collaborating on a Padlet for keeping golden lines from the book, using Thinglink to organize images of people who were challenged by dyslexia or perhaps other disabilities.

*Blogging on Kidblog and connecting with other students through the Slice of Life Story Classroom Challenge, hosted by the Two Writing Teachers community.

*Class membership to Biblionasium, a site where each student can create a virtual bookshelf of books read, suggest books to friends, write reviews, etc. Create a class shelf to keep track of our class read alouds.

*Put QR codes in books. Codes can take you to authors web sites, a student reading a book review he/she created for that book, or a teacher reading the book aloud.

*Use an app like "Show Me" to create lessons on specific skills like fluency or where to place a capital letter. Students can listen to the lesson as a reminder or a preview before working with the teacher in a small group.

*Use Padlet as a way for each student to have a voice or answer a question. 

I see so many possibilities for technology to enrich the literacy experiences my students can have. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed with all the different apps and sites I don't know. I know some teachers see technology as an extra thing being put on their plate and many are really not using it much. The key for me is to use it myself first and understand how it enriches my life as a literate person. As always, when teachers have the chance to learn and live something personally, it becomes so much more meaningful and feels more possible.

Monday, July 13, 2015

If We Are What We Remember #SOL15

Last Thursday, I had the chance to hear a poet and teacher, Dr. Linda Opyr, speak.  Teens who were participating in the Creative Writing Retreat, facilitated by Long Island Writing Project teachers, and the teachers I've been working with in the LIWP Summer Institute had the opportunity to listen to Dr. Opyr read her poems and talk to us about being a writer.  Her collection of poetry is called If We Are What We Remember and it is beautiful.  Hearing her read her poems was mesmerizing- she read with such heart and expression and voice. 

Dr. Opyr spoke with such passion: my pen could not go fast enough to keep up with her wise gems. "When you write, you have the opportunity to change people's lives," she said.  Your writing can send someone more deeply into their own life.  She said through writing, "what was lost was found again."  

She described writer's block through the metaphor of a field.  Whether something is blooming under the surface or if the field is full of vegetation, the field is still a field all the same.  Sometimes there will be many, many ideas and other times you will feel empty.  There is room in you for both the flood of ideas and the famine and,importantly- both pass.  

Dr. Opyr had many great ideas for writing prompts when you are stuck.  One of her poems begins with the line "You must tell them this." Part of the LIWP Summer Institute includes writing a piece and bringing it to publication.  I used that line "You must tell them this" as inspiration for a poem that I will publish this week.  I hope to share it with the TWT Slice of Life community next week! I love this line and all its' possibilities- who is the you? Who is them? What must you tell them and why? I have my take on it- what would yours be? 

Here is a link to Dr. Linda Opyr's site in case you are interested in learning more about this teacher turned poet: http://www.lindaopyr.com/home

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

#cyberPD Digital Reading Ch.1 and 2

I decided to do a double-entry journal for these chapters, where I write a quote from the book and my thoughts on the quote.  

page 3: "Students who are engaged and motivated readers read more often and read more diverse texts than students who are unmotivated by the reading task. 
This made me think of "The Matthew Effect" where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.  Kids who are already good at reading are the ones who keep getting better.  The gap gets wider each day between our proficient readers and those who are struggling.

page 4: "Digital reading experiences must be part of the opportunities we give students on a regular basis.  If not, we're discounting much of the reading they will engage with in the future."

This was such a good point I thought. I use digital reading and writing daily myself, so why wouldn't I incorporate those opportunities into instruction? Digital reading/writing is only going to grow- it's not going away.  Students need to know how to navigate this world. 

page 5: Quote from Sara:"I know school is important and I want to do well because that's what everyone expects of me. But if I really want to learn something, I do that outside of school."

Ouch....but true.  I've felt that way myself as a student. I always thought "school reading" was boring but loved to ready my own self-selected books. Now, with so many digital resources for learning, students can find information at any time.  They need time in school to use these resources to explore ideas they are interested in, at least part of the time.  I had my highest level of engagement this past year when students came up with their own wonderings and topics to explore.  Instead of everyone studying frogs, one student researched Amelia Earhart, another studied who created Legos, and another student read about the sinking of the Titanic.  

page 7: Quote from Kylene Beers and and Robert Probst: "The most rigorous reading is to find what those words on that page mean in our own lives."

I love the return to this focus after the first few years of Common Core when most people were saying that your interpretation and feelings on a text don't matter anymore- just state what the author says.  This never sat well with me as I believe that reading is most certainly a transaction of meaning-making between the reader and the text.  What we bring to what we read becomes part of the experience.

page 7: "For our students to experience a reading life in which reading changes who they are and thus changes their worlds, our definition of reading in the classroom must expand. Although reading in the digital age still includes reading powerful novels, it must also include digital pieces and digital tools."

It's not an either/or situation- it's both! Reading takes many forms and medias and as a teacher, I read from all different places each day.  I read books in paper form and electronic form and most of my other reading comes from blog posts and articles I find online.  I do get magazines sent to my house (though they sadly sit in a stack and wait for me to read them).  I buy professional books mostly in paper form as a conscious choice to want to hold it in my hands.  I use digital resources to take pictures of charts in these books or to write about what I've read.  This book is making me realize I need to be more explicit and purposeful about teaching kids about all the types of reading they can do, including digital.

page 12: "When they always read books that are a stretch for their comprehension level, students find it hard to read closely and to be thoughtful about the text."

This is another excellent point.  I felt some of my third grade readers this year plowed through books without really stopping to understand and then got insulted when I suggested the book might not be a good fit or they need to spend time reading more carefully.  I think many have gotten used to reading the words and not stopping to think, question, or wonder. 

page 13: "As with any text-based media, our worry remains the same for these transitional readers: if they continue to read, view, and listen without true understanding, their expectations for meaning are diminished, and they begin to expect that these texts will not always make sense or have meaning.  They become passive consumers who read and view in a very simple way."

This is why teachers are so important for both traditional and digital reading.  We need to help students to become active readers.

page 16: "While no single tool makes the difference in the literacy workshop, collectively these tools change everything about our teaching and our students' learning.

Agreed! Teachers cannot think, "Well, I'm using ___" and feel they have checked off the digital box.  It is more of a way of living to incorporate many different tools and mediums throughout time.

page 22: "And we believe, that, more than all this, it is the habits and behaviors of readers that define a digital reading workshop."

This has not changed, despite the introduction of digital reading and tools into the workshop.

page 23: "It is in our digital reading workshops that our students will learn the power of community, both inside the walls of the classroom and beyond."

I love this point.  I feel like I have 2 communities I belong to now- face to face and online.  My online community is actually several different communities I belong to online, but these connections have become a very important and powerful force in helping me grow as a person and a teacher.  I cannot imagine a life now where I do not participate in online communities.  We need to show our students the power in that.

I am truly enjoying this book and feel my philosophy towards digital reading and tools growing and changing.  I look forward to the continued conversation!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Found in a Book (Found Poem) #SOL15



Today was the first day of the Long Island Writing Project's Summer Institute, which I have the pleasure of co-facilitating. As is our tradition, we started our day with a read aloud (or "shared reading" as we call it) and then free writing. Participants read their responses and it is always amazing how one text brings up so many different ideas for all of us. The book we shared today was The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce. The participants' responses were so beautiful and poignant. I took words, phrases and lines from each participants response to create this found poem.

“Found in a Book”
By Kathleen Sokolowski

Found Poem Inspired by the Written Responses to
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
Words taken from the writings of Barbara, Lauren, Lillian, Nicolette, Gina, Sally, and Regina

Books connect us-
Everyone’s story matters.
Lost in a book? No!
We’ve been found in a book.

Reading connects us all.  
Taps into what makes us human.
Something special in every genre.
Read them, share them, write them.

Can’t see the story for the words?
Rearrange yourselves!
Don’t whirl in the tornado of your own disaster
What kind of winds will we survive
to write our story again?

Believe in surviving the storm.
Isn’t that, after all, the point of stories?
Find your voice.
Everyone’s voice matters.
Write a new story.

Let go when need be, hold on when you can.
Get found in a book.
Everyone’s story matters.
We end the way we started.
Books connect us.