Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Literacy Connection, Teaching with Intention by Debbie Miller- Extending Thinking, Time and the Classroom

I am so excited to share this post, you can also find it published in the Literacy Connection Newsletter! I was honored when the Literacy Connection asked to publish my work. This blog was born out of my work with the Literary Connection and the reading of Teaching with Intention by Debbie Miller (my guru) so it seems only fitting that I share the article with you here in my blog! 

Changes in Professional Learning  
As a part of our work with the Literacy Connection we were ask to reflect on our reading of Debbie Miller's book, Teaching with Intention in a journal or blog. I decided to create a professional blog to share my reflections and how they impacted my teaching practices. Blogging has opened my professional world. It has given me the opportunity to reflect in a way that connects with other educators all over the world. I have found colleagues locally and globally who enrich my teaching. This platform for reflection makes my thinking permanent and visible. I recently had the opportunity to participate in a Literacy Connection workshop in which we read and discussed Debbie Miller’s book “Reading With Intention.” Through this wonderful experience, I have grown as a learner, a teacher, and as part of a much larger world of professionals than I ever imagined. This opportunity has enlightened, refined, and expanded my teaching practice. The professional learning opportunities through the Literacy Connection have led me to take my learning, as well as the learning of my students, beyond the classroom.
In addition to writing I also became a more consistent reader of blogs. This has proven to be a practice that influences and motivates not only my learning, but also the learning of my students. Reading the thoughts of other educators offers reflection and refinement to my teaching.  I feel empowered by the professional development that comes from sharing and reflecting with others.

Impact on Students’ Learning
The positive impact of expanding my professional learning was so powerful I wanted to provide this experience for my students. I wanted my students to feel that they were being heard and I wanted them to have more time to listen to the thoughts of others. When you work with a classroom of first graders, there never seems to be enough time to hear the thoughts of all the students. I also wanted to provide the opportunity to connect with other learners who share their interest and ideas. I wanted our classroom environment to extend beyond our physical boundaries and limits of time. I wanted to create limitless time. I believe learning is more powerful when it’s authentic and extends beyond the classroom.
To expand the students’ learning beyond the classroom I chose to use VoiceThread (VT). VT is an interactive web 2.0 tool that allows the creator to share a document, video, or photo along with written or audio comments. Viewers of the VT can also add audio or written comments around the shared document. This sharing and viewing creates an interactive conversation between the creator and viewers.
I introduced my class to VT by asking them to simply share a comment on our weekly book winner. Navigating VT seemed to come quickly and naturally to the kids. I was pleased to see they enjoyed listening to the comments of their peers as much as they enjoyed sharing their own comments. Listening and commenting on the VT allowed the students to share and hear the thoughts of others,enriching their thinking and learning. It wasn’t long until students began asking if they could create their own VT’s!
Learning how to create a VT came as easily to the kids as commenting and, of course it wasn’t long until creating became even more popular than commenting. The beginning VT’s were created by the students as a way to share their thinking or ask questions about books they were reading.
Listening to the VT conversations gave me, as well as the parents, valuable information about the students’ learning that might have otherwise been missed in the typical day. For the kids, knowing VT was available to them any time during the day, as well as from home, gave them more opportunities to share and be heard. VT offers parents the opportunity to view and comment from any computer! Parents can see the learning and hear the thinking of all the students involved in the VT conversation. As parents listen to VT they are able to hear the language used in book conversations in the classroom. This helps parents to have a better understanding of how to talk with their students about reading.  

Sharing Student Thinking

VT continued to grow in our classroom as kids began to use VT to recommend books to the class. Some books were from our room and some came from home! As kids brought in books from home our library began to grow and I was able to see their reading lives outside of the classroom. Viewing student thinking on VT also provided valuable information on the students’ transfer of reading strategies beyond the classroom, the types of books that were popular among the class, and the habits they have as a reader.
In addition to sharing books, kids began to share their charts about reading. As other kids viewed Cynthia’s thinking on VT, more began to share in the same way. Cynthia’s sharing, while it didn’t get any comments, did inspire other readers. VT has been an amazing tool for making thinking visible and permanent for all to hear and see.

Connecting with Classrooms
Seeing the amazing opportunities of VT, we began to expand our book conversations beyond our classroom. We made connections with teachers in our building, our community, as well as nationally. We created the first VT to connect with other classrooms after reading Mandy Robek’s blog, Enjoy and Embrace Learning. In her blog Mandy shared New Red Bike by James Ransome. After reading this book with my class and they immediately asked if they could create a VT to tell Mrs.Robek how much they enjoyed the book. The class also asked to share the VT with Miss Jill’s crew in Colorado, who we also met through the blogging community and VT.  
Our next shared VT was Poetry Tag. Which was inspired by Franki Sibberson and Mary Lee Hahn’s blog, “A Year of Reading” Poetry Tag connected our classroom with six different classrooms! Our class began the tag game by choosing a favorite poem and then tagging the next class. This class was then “IT”. Then as a class they would choose a poem that connected to the previous poem, post the poem on VT by adding a picture of the poem with an audio recording of the reading of the poem. The class would then “tag” next teacher. The kids were excited to share poetry with others and to hear the poems shared by other classrooms. Connecting so many classrooms sent a powerful message to all the readers: we are readers; we connect and build our thinking by sharing.

In reading “Teaching With Intention”, I found Debbie’s words comforting. Her words gave me the confidence I needed to step out and challenge myself as a professional and as a learner. With the support of my colleagues and The Literacy Connection I find myself expanding the learning community of my kids, their families and myself. I am encouraged by all this year has brought to my classroom and already excited to see what next year’s opportunities will bring!

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