Thursday, July 17, 2014

#WordCrimes

If you haven’t seen the hilarious new video from Weird Al Yankovic, check it out below:





It’s a play on Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” and paints a picture that all grammarians can relate to.


I’m sharing it because of its hilarious take on learning proper grammar and conventions and also because of its cleverness and appeal as a parody. I would love to see students experimenting with pop culture in such a way and with all of the web tools at our disposal, we certainly have the means to do so.


What would a library of student created music videos look like? How could they demonstrate understanding of content through the rewriting of the lyrics to popular songs and their own performances of those songs? How would sharing those student creations with others around the world impact their revisions and additional learning? What additional skills would students learn as they investigated web tools, learned about editing, and applied their new skills for a quality product?


Viewing this video is far from just entertainment. It opens up cans of worms for me about what students could do to demonstrate learning. I would also like to point out that Weird Al is releasing 8 videos in 8 days around his new album, all of which are clever, full of pop culture references, and demonstrative of a thinking man’s perspective on the world we live in.


His website is: http://www.weirdal.com/


I hope you’ll take the time to view some of his other creations for this album. I think that they are spectacularly descriptive of our modern times and clever re-imaginations of popular songs.


I’d like to thank Jay McTighe for being the first to notice and share the video. Jay’s like the TMZ of the educational horizon and shares stuff long before the rest of us have a chance to notice! Thanks, Jay!



Mike on Twitter: @fisher1000

Monday, June 16, 2014

Skype School Visit with Thailand’s Ministry of Education

I had the incredible privilege this past week of working with Thailand’s Ministry of Education in Washington, D.C. at ASCD’s headquarters.  Our time was spent discussing modern classrooms and 21st Century Skills and the impact that teaching in this century will have on student learning.


Our time was to include a visit to a local school but due to an array of circumstances, including the fact that most local schools were preparing for end of year exams and the busyness that comes with wrapping up a school year, we were not able to make that happen.


Enter Clarence Middle School in Clarence, New York.


I put out a message on Twitter asking my network if there was anyone willing to let us Skype into their school on short notice, so that the education officials from Thailand would be able to at least virtually visit a school and observe some of the issues we were discussing.


John Mikulski, the assistant principal of the school, tweeted back that he could help us make it happen. With a couple of emails and phone call (and a plea deal with his wife who is due to go into labor at any moment) we were able to quickly set up a virtual visit.



The delegation from Thailand was able to see a math class and a foreign language class, get a tour of the school, and ask questions of the administrators at the school, including another assistant principal, Rob Michel. John facilitated all of this on his iPad using the Skype app.


The significance of this, and thus the reason that I am sharing it, is multi-faceted. For one thing, we were able to do something better than what we were planning by utilizing available technology. We engaged in a new form of observation and interaction that minimized interruptions. Nineteen people crowded into a classroom to observe a teacher would be a huge disruption. One person with a recordable device isn’t disruptive at all.


Another aspect of significance is what this virtual visit did to underscore the modern learning practices we were exploring. It gave us a window into a classroom where we could observe student engagement, fluency practice, communication, problem solving, critical thinking, critiquing the reasoning of others, and teachers as guides on the side. The delegation got to ask questions about curriculum, assessment, who is designing what, etc., interviewing both John and Rob about this slice of life in an American school.


Using technology allowed us to do something that we’ve never done before, modifying and redefining traditional actions into more modern and efficient ones. This helps to flatten our world and bring us all closer together using technology and meaningful conversations.

Thanks to the Ministry, to Clarence Middle School, and to John for all the legwork. And a special thanks to his wife for staving off labor for at least an hour so we could make this happen.


Mike on Twitter: @fisher1000

Digital Learning Strategies now available from ASCD

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Heart of the Close Reading Standard

Collaborative Blog Post by Mike Fisher and Janet Hale


Despite the amount of publishing and vendor products that employ a contrary interpretation, close reading is really about HOW we engage reading skills. It is not WHAT we engage. Developing “close reading” as a skill is not an essential part of this standard. Instead, it is a methodology, a strategy that is a way in which to reach the heart of the reading standards and the heart of improving comprehension.


The Hows and The Whats


Let’s look at the Common Core anchor standard number one for Reading-Literacy:
Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.


The WHATs are clear:
  • Determine what the text(s) says explicitly
  • Make logical inferences from the text(s)
  • Cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking
  • What you write or say must incorporate evidence drawn from text(s) to support conclusions


The HOWs are muddier:
  • While “read closely” is explicitly stated, what literally should be read is left to interpretation as well as HOW one records his or her notations based on defined task, purpose, and audience. For example, one interpretation could be creating an opportunity for students to deeply analyze a speech transcript for its rhetoric and annotate (or annotext) to capture evidence. Another interpretation could be re-reading a section or sections of a narrative focused on characterization and have students using a semantic mind-map to make evidence-based notations.
  • HOW students will be assessed--both the actual assessments and evaluation tools (Who will be the assessor? Teacher...Peers...Authentic audience? What will be the judgement criteria? Rubric...Oral Feedback...Jury Panel?) are not included explicitly in the anchor standard; therefore, open to interpretation.
  • “When writing or speaking” is explicitly stated, which means that students must be able to not only meet the criteria of this anchor standard (R.CCR.1), they must also demonstrate their abilities in conjunction with relational anchor standards, such as SL.CCR.4: Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.


By no means are the above the only considerations regarding interpretation of the HOWs involved in the close reading of texts. As a matter of fact, it is important to note that while this anchor standard used the term “text”, when reading grade-level specific standards associated with a related anchor standard for both Reading Literature and Reading Informational, R.CCR.7:


Compare and contrast a written story, drama, or poem to its audio, filmed, staged, or multimedia version, analyzing the effects of techniques unique to each medium (e.g., lighting, sound, color, or camera focus and angles in a film).


students must provide evidence by closely viewing media. This opens up Pandora’s box (RL.4.4) in that many teachers have not personally experienced this form of rigor regarding finding evidence in a media format, which involves its own set of terminology and understanding (e.g., how a specific type of shot--extreme long shot, long shot, full shot, mid-shot, close-up, extreme close-up--affects mood and tone).


Therefore, it is up to a teacher, or a teacher team, to interpret this (and other related) anchor standards. Students could determine what a text says explicitly through a digital-product assessment. Perhaps they could visually represent, through an infographic, logical inferences from two related texts. Another option could be to have students collaboratively (SL.CCR.1)  prepare a multi-media presentation that engages multiple HOWs to support the close-reading task.

The Hierarchy


As Mike blogged before, the words READ CLOSELY do not appear in ANY of the grade specific standards for R.CCR.1, further evidence that it is not the intended focal point. This anchor standard has more to do with building an increasing sophistication of how students deal with details in text (as well as media).


Let’s take a peek at the hierarchy through the use of Janet’s CCSS ELA Progressive Continuum App, which helps visualize new learning from one grade level to another.


(Note that bold print indicates new learning for a particular grade level.)


RL.K.1 With prompting and support, ask and answer questions about key details in a text.


RL.3.1 Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers.


RL.5.1 Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.


RL.6.1 Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.


RL.11-12.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.


In the lower grade levels students are expected, with prompting and support, to ask and answer questions about details in text. In subsequent grade levels (grade three), students have to begin referring explicitly to specific details within text to answer posed questions. By the time students have reached grade five, they must be able to quote details accurately from the text in their speaking, writing, or multimedia products or presentations. In grade six the verb shifts from “quote” to “cite”, which alone creates interesting conversation with teachers on the interpretation of what this term truly means, and therefore, demands of students regarding evidence. Through grade 12 students are expected to continue to cite evidence using specific details from the text, but sophistication increases including the need to examine multiple pieces of “strong and thorough” evidence. In grades 11 and 12 , students must start discerning textual details, collecting and curating evidence to aid in determining which pieces of evidence (both explicitly and inferred) that most strongly support the analysis of the text, including “determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.”

The HEART of the Close Reading Standard


When close reading the previous paragraph, what would the key idea be? If you had to boil that paragraph down to a single-word emphasis, what would the word be? How about details? The heart of R.CCR.1 is that--it’s all about the details--questions about the details, referring to the details, quoting the details, citing the details, determining if the details leave matters uncertain.


The heart’s “pulse” is the rhythm students create that starts with answering and asking questions to ultimately discover how to best analyze texts. Students need a strong foundation (including quality modeling) in asking and answering questions in order to ready themselves to independently refer to texts to support their reasoning, including the abilities to quote accurately and cite evidence properly.



Final Thoughts


It is extremely important that teachers collaboratively (both across grade levels as well as within a grade level) understand the heart of each Anchor Standard in Reading, Writing, Listening & Speaking, and Language rather than accept interpretations by someone else. Teachers, administrators, and curriculum specialists should be discussing their personal interpretations with one another and coming to agreement on what the anchor standards require and designing curriculum and instruction based on the mutual interpretations.


The implications are that locally-designed units of study or lesson plans, vendor products or state-adopted curricula may not be a perfect fit, which means there will be a need to closely read the resource’s details to determine where the text leaves matters uncertain. Based on your agreed-upon WHATs and HOWs regarding each anchor standard, what do these resources provide that meet your established criteria? Where are the products lacking or appear to be incorrect? Can those involved in the product or resource close-reading experience support their reading using evidence-based conclusions?


The heart of the close reading standard matters. It has a place and purpose, not only in Grades K-12, but for college and careers. Scaffolded skills that live in the “close reading” standard are necessary to ensure students are able to identify details and ultimately lead to greater comprehension of text in a sophisticated manner. But an array of close-reading skills are not meant to be THE only skill sets that matter. Close reading should take place occasionally, when appropriate for task, purpose, and audience. Any methodology used with too much regularity is doomed. Skill sets and their supportive strategies are meant to be strategic...targeted...focused. If teachers read closely with students every single day, it’s not a strategy, it’s a roadblock.


Post-Script


This blog post focused on the analysis (or close read) of only ONE anchor standard. There are 10 reading anchor standards, and collectively there are 32 English/Language Arts anchor standards. What opportunities for empowering educators regarding curriculum design and instructional practice can be manifested by asking them to participate in collegial discussions and deep understandings concerning all of the anchor standards?



Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Humus: A 1st Grade Close Reading Moment



“Soil is made of hummus,” my daughter read.


She was reading one of the leveled reading books that her teacher sends home with her weekly. This one had to do with farming.


“Let’s look at that again,” I said, “that word is HUMUS.” I underlined the word with my finger and asked her to say it with me. “Humus is dirt with decaying plant matter mixed in with it.” We said the word together and I extended the definition by asking her to remember last spring when we first planted our seeds for our vegetable garden. “The potting soil we used is humus,” I said.


We went back to the book. I asked her to read the sentence again.


“Soil is made of hummus,” she said, pausing slightly as she got to the word and sounded out each syllable in the word as she read. She looked at me and knew it wasn’t right.


We went down to the syllable level to analyze what she was doing. Note that I didn’t tell my first grade child that I was analyzing her every move, I was simply pulling from a toolbox of improvement opportunities at the authentic moment that one of the tools was needed.


I asked her to show me how she was breaking the word apart, a strategy her teachers had taught her and her classmates to help them figure out new words. Her strategy was rooted in prior knowledge. She showed me with her finger how she separated the word:  HUM/ US/


She sees and says the known word “Hum” followed by the known word “Us.” It was apparent that just telling her the correct pronunciation was not going to do the trick. I had to ask her to re-apply the strategy. I asked her to break the word differently, after the “u,” like in human. Thus, her brain would see HU/ MUS/ instead.


She practiced a couple of times and then re-read the line.


“Soil is made of humus.” She punctuated the syllables in humus but got it right. We continued reading.


All of this happened over the course of just a few seconds. I didn’t belabor the actions nor did I repeat the correct pronunciation over and over. I recognized what she was doing and I tweaked her strategy. I didn’t focus on key ideas and details for the sake of making meaning across the entire text. I focused on making meaning of just one word in order to knock down a roadblock so that she could continue to access the rest of the text. When we were done reading, we went back to the page and re-read the sentence again, correctly and without hesitation.


I consider this a mini close reading moment, but at the word level rather than the sentence or paragraph level. The evidence for thinking what she’s thinking lies in the knowledge she gains from using known strategies and growing those strategies when she encounters new words. I asked her questions about her text and she answered them, leading her to comprehend with greater accuracy. She is becoming an independent reader and a roadblock problem solver so that there is continued improvement over time.


While this might not be a perfect match to the Close Reading standards around Key Ideas and Details, I do think it represents a quick analysis appropriate for the grade level. Even at the word level, I’m asking questions about both the text and the strategy.


The key here is that she’s reading and we are navigating both skills and processes while she’s reading. Sometimes the reading is more guiding in nature and represents an improvement zone. Sometimes it’s her reading to me so that I can hear what she’s doing. Sometimes I still read to her when she lets me, not so much anymore because I want her to hear me being a fluent reader but because I still can. I hope that lasts for a little while longer.


Image via http://www.freeimages.com/pic/l/d/ds/dspruitt/1330845_55088931.jpg

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Digital Microstories

Collaborative Blog Post written with friend and colleague Danielle Hardt of Starpoint Middle School in Lockport, NY. Danielle is a literacy rock star, a highly effective teacher, and a secret practical joke enthusiast (a skill I highly prize!).

It has become the rage as of late to “Close Read” everything in American Common Core classrooms. Almost all of the states that are providing curriculum resources (including NY) and many of the vendors that are selling Common Core aligned products are focusing on Close Reading as an essential strategy in their materials, overusing an instructional methodology to the point of killing the love of reading. Our students are noticing this too, and ever since the beginning of education, the students are our largest sounding board as well as our biggest obligation. We need to listen to them.
 
In an effort to bring a little love back to literacy (note the alliteration), we’d like to suggest a little brevity and levity and “webevity” to instructional processes with the use of digital microstories. This avenue provides a medium students are very comfortable with.  Using digital formats fosters engagement and efficiency and proficiency in the classroom, as many students either use these tools already or require limited explanation of their usage. In many modern classrooms, students are educating us as teachers in the easiest ways to utilize the technology. When this happens, the learning skyrockets! We are all partners in learning.
 
Digital microstories are based on short fiction pieces that range from six words to 140 characters to a couple of sentences to a couple of paragraphs. The emphasis is on brevity, certainly, but also on a student’s ability to make connections and inferences based on the few words they read--then extending those connections and inferences to a visualization using a teacher- or student-selected web tool.
 
Besides just sheer engagement, another attribute of this format is the instant gratification for students to complete and "turn in" an assignment in one class period or block. What middle schooler doesn't love to weave a tale about the hero/heroine that escapes a torturous conflict, barely rising to the top? Perhaps a midnight terror that shivers the spine? Maybe they’d delve into a short poem or riddle or other clever play on words. Any which way, digital microstory formats allow for these and many other options for the writers of the world to concisely demonstrate critical thinking, focusing on evaluation and synthesis without the rigmarole of days of analysis or the constant revisiting of text for the sake of answering what amounts to a bunch of comprehension questions.
 
Allowing students the opportunity to choose dramatically-engaging topics in relationship to the visualization within these digital formats creates a natural connection to inferencing. A relationship with close reading happens organically, rather than through a need for direct instruction. This organic and authentic version of close reading hits the heart of the way we analyze details and extend the learning beyond anything we could have imagined in traditional ways of teaching. It also extends opportunities for further discussion and reflection.
 
Getting back to the topic at hand though, access to resources around microfiction are numerous. You can “Google” search terms such as “Microstories,” “Microfiction,” “Microtext,” etc. and find a plethora of resources related to short fiction. Note that some of these resources might be inappropriate for sharing with kids, but would be great for sharing/generating ideas with teachers about how they might engage micro-literacy with their students.
 
Here are some of our favorites:
 
Six Word Stories:
 
Visualizing Famous Quotes: Make a Web2.0 visualization of your favorite quote!
 
 
Very short stories:
 
Extremely Short Stories:
 
“Tweet the gist:”
  • Tweet the plot of a favorite movie.
  • Tweet the central idea of a favorite song.
  • Tweet the main idea of a favorite poem.
  • (Note that these tweets might be physical, in-class experiences, rather than an online tweet. Just keep them to 140 characters!)
  • Then, “Instagram” the tweet: What visual would enhance the tweeted message?
There are several important task-specific functions that go along with Digital Microstories, primary among them are analysis of text and students eventually writing their own versions rather than always analyzing someone else’s writing. Both of these are aligned to Common Core standards for Key Ideas and Details (Anchor standards 1-3) in all grade levels in the reading standards and the first six writing standards around text types and production of writing. Additionally, because students are adding a visual component, they are also engaging reading standard 7 around the integration and evaluation of diverse media formats.
 
Now that we’ve defined the “What,” let’s take a look at the “How.”
 
There are many web tools available for creating visualizations of text, merging multiple types of media, and developing digital representations of thinking. For this particular instructional activity scenario, we’re looking for tools that engage the brevity factor. Those tools that let us create short, quick media productions will be the most useful for digital microstories and thus our opportunities for instant classroom gratification and analysis...and assessment...and engagement.
 
Here is a sampling of tools, both Web 2.0 and Device Applications, that we think would be extremely useful for digital microstorytelling:
 
 
With a vast variety of tools online and apps on devices/tablets, this short list is just the tip of the iceberg. Feel free to share your favorites in the comments section below! Additionally, these photo and image resources may help:  Stock ExchangePixabayFlickr's Creative Commons
 
Using some of these web tools, we created some examples here, with Ernest Hemingway’s original Six Word Story, “For sale, baby shoes. Never worn.”:
 
Animoto:
Six Word Stories: Hemingway  
Prezi:
 
Storybird:
 
Note how our choices of associated media in the different web tools creates opportunities for divergent discussions, perhaps even comparative analysis of several visualizations of the same short text. How awesome would that be to explore in class?
 
Since these digital microstories are dependent on both text and other media, if you need help with images to create your own visualization, check out the photo and image resources in Mike’s Diigo account: https://www.diigo.com/user/mikefisher821/photos While many of these resources include free content, we would urge you to remember and model that attribution is still important and students should give credit where credit is due.
 
Here are a couple of useful sites to assist in providing that credit:
 
 
Some of the web tools include content that students can use without attribution because they are an embedded component of the web tool or application.
 
So what’s the point of all this?
 
Learning and engagement are extremely powerful together. High levels of both help students remember more and evaluate better. Giving students opportunities to investigate short fiction forms and create them on their own opens up a plethora of avenues to creative development and ownership of learning.
 
Digital microstories offer students many opportunities for creativity, textual analysis, discernment, evaluation, engagement, and choices. How powerful is that? If we’re really going to work toward college and career readiness, shouldn’t we give our students authentic tasks and tools? We think so. And we think Digital Microstories are a great way to get there!

Originally posted at Curriculum21.com/blog

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Myths of the Common Core

In the last few weeks, I’ve published three blog posts dispelling some of the myths surrounding the Common Core Standards and their implementation around our country.

My first thought this morning was to share them individually over Twitter and Facebook but I thought multiple tweets and status updates would overly saturate the stream. I decided it would be a better idea to collect the blog posts here in one container post. What follows are just the tip of the iceberg of conversations we should be having about the Race To The Top implementation for the sake of doing what is best for children as well as preparing them to be successful in life.

The first post, entitled The Problem is Not The Standards, details the minutiae around the standards that many folks are concerned with, though the standards themselves are almost always NOT the target of the conversation.

The second post, entitled An Alternate Take on the Close Reading Standard, discusses the emphasis on Close Reading in the standards rather than opportunities for metacognition and students providing evidence for thinking what they are thinking.

The third and most recent post, The 70 / 30 Delusion, explores the oft-overlooked page 5 of the ELA Common Core Standards dealing with the balance between literary and informational text.

I write often about the Common Core standards and I hope that readers understand that I am writing from an authentic place that matters to many teachers’ professional practice. I see a lot of different versions of the way that Common Core standards are implemented nationwide and I think that teachers are to be valued for adding their professional experiences and expertise to that implementation. What we’ve all learned about instruction and children should not be displaced by what vendors say is important. All of these new resources add to the menu of instructional options but shouldn’t become a verbatim checklist of what we must “cover.”

Stay tuned, more to come on this topic! I hope to see many of you reading this at the ASCD Conference in L.A. in March!

Follow Mike on Twitter: @fisher1000




Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Ephemerality: Digital Learning Strategies

Alas, poor xTraNormal, I knew you. A web tool of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy.


Except you were finite. And now you’re gone.


I wrote about how awesome xTraNormal was in my new book, Digital Learning Strategies: How Do I Assign and Assess Digital Work, and then discovered, with horror, that the web tool had dried up just as I submitted the manuscript. The book came out touting the wonders of making movies just by scripting the actors textually and now it’s done for.


This blog post is meant to serve two purposes. One, the disappearance of the web tool underscores how important the task is versus the tool, and two, to offer some alternatives to xTraNormal that teachers can use.


The whole point of using a web tool like xTraNormal is to engage kids in writing, specifically writing dialogue, being able to tell a complete story while navigating conventions, grammar, figurative language and powerful vocabulary. Oh, and also to have fun doing it. Writing was the objective, and xTraNormal provided an engaging way to do it.


In the book, I wrote about xTraNormal as a brain-based application that provided a visualization of the writing. Students wrote, yes, but they also controlled (Strategic and capable use of technology and digital media, yo!) options for characters, settings, character movement, etc. Here’s an example of what it looked like from an xTraNormal video shared on Youtube:




In this example, the creator actually integrates several content pieces to create the video; there’s the historical characters that were chosen as well as the discussion of balancing equations in both mathematics and chemistry. How well would a kid have to understand the content to be able to create something like this? How awesome would it be for kids to create a bunch of these to solicit feedback about revisions or misconceptions? What changes in instruction and assessment when these digital creations are touted as viable products of value that demonstrate deep levels of learning? Also of note here: this is a new version of content area literacy - writing in a content area using domain specific vocabulary with tools of the 21st Century.


Perhaps you’re beginning to see why I think it’s such a travesty that the tool is dried up.


So, to recap, the task matters more than the tool, but in this case, the tool was a pretty cool one. Note that I’m advocating for the writing here, but I have to be mindful of engagement with the kids. In terms of that engagement and to add some new tools to your digital toolboxes, I’d like to point you toward the following posts/resources that deal specifically with alternatives to xTraNormal:




Even though it’s gone, this situation is a good reminder that web tools can be ephemeral and like puddles--could be there one day but could be gone the next. It’s never a good idea to over-rely on any one tool. Staying task-focused and pulling from a toolbox of digital opportunities, whatever is available at the time, is where it’s at.


For those that got the book already, consider this an addendum. I’m including the link to the document on Scribd.com so you can download as a PDF and add to your digital device. THE LINK IS HERE.