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Monthly Archives: November 2011

The Art of Questioning

What do you wonder?  Do you constantly form questions about the world around you?  If you are an elementary student, your answer is probably “yes.”  If you are an adult, the answer is “sometimes.”  If you are an adolescent, your answer is probably, “What are you talking about?”  By the time students are in seventh grade, they are so used to the teachers telling them which questions to ask and which questions to answer from their reading, that they stop forming their own.  Do you wonder why so many adolescents are disconnected from the content of their classes?  Cris Tovani writes in I read it, but I don’t get it, “In a rigorous, inquiry-based classroom, student-generated questions drive instruction and encourage engagement.”  Questioning is a strategy that can be, and should be, taught.  First, the teacher needs to create a low-risk environment encouraging all students, through modeling, that all questions are valid.  Then, the teacher connects questioning to text the students are reading.  The key through this whole process (and most educational processes for that matter) is teacher-modeling.

How often did I, as a classroom teacher, generate all of the questions?  Did I allow for student inquiry?  Happily, I can say that I did.  On the flip side, I can say, not often enough.  I wonder how much more fun my teaching would have been, how much more my students would have learned had I allowed for student-generated questions to guide my instruction on a regular basis.

Trust me…it gets easier

My children (along with the kids at our church) are working to raise money for Kids Against Hunger.  In January, we will package 20,000 meals to be dispersed to those dying of starvation.  I love this very real way for my own children to be involved in helping others.  In order to do this, we need to raise $5,000.  My five-year-old has no trouble talking to people about anything at all – family, friends, and strangers, alike.  My eight-year-old, however, is just like I was at her age.  She is quiet, introverted, and gets very nervous when she has to be the one to initiate a conversation.  We have asked her to educate her relatives about Kids Against Hunger.  She balks at the idea, cringes at the suggestion, and tries to find every way out of it.  We remind her that she is the voice for the voiceless.  We remind her that these are aunts/uncles/grandparents who love her.  We remind her that the worse that can happen is that they say they can’t donate right now.  Still, when the time comes, she hesitates.  She mumbles to me under her breath asking again why she has to do this.  She takes her five-year-old brother with her as back-up.  That night, she tells us that when she was talking to Aunt Donna, she was sweaty and her stomach hurt.  She is not looking forward to the next family gathering on Sunday.  We try to reassure her that it will get easier every time she tells someone new.

I see her position much like my own this year.  This school year I have found myself leading meetings with teachers from my previous school (friends and family).  I have led discussions with teachers who used to teach me.  I have shared ideas with district administrators (strangers at the beginning of this year).  While, I am still somewhat of an introvert, I am growing into this position.  I shared with my daughter that I still get a bit overheated when I’m presenting in front of a group.  Many times, my face stays red throughout the entire session.  But there is a difference now.  I enjoy this.  I’m energized by it.  I have a message to share with them.  I’m excited to tell them what I have learned.  I can only tell my daughter that I have found that it gets easier each time.

Many of the teachers in our school district are trying new things this year.  They are teaching new math curriculum, new science curriculum, transitioning to Common Core State Standards, integrating more technology into their curriculum, setting up a blog for the first time (tongue in cheek).  It’s a time of uneasiness all around.  We want to help our students learn and grow as much as possible.  We want to prepare them for life after this school year.  We want to be the constant in their lives.  It’s difficult at times, it’s uncomfortable, but it’s worth it.  We grow the most in times of struggle.  All I can say is, trust me…it gets easier.

Word Clouds and Technology in the Classroom

With the adoption of Common Core State Standards, my job has become more valuable.  This year in Common Core states, our content-area teachers in grades 6-12 must teach Common Core Literacy Standars with their academic standards.  Some are taking this in stride, realizing that they have already been doing it.  Others are panicking by yet another stipulation applied from the state.  As I have been reading professional literature, attending conferences, and passing on new information to our secondary teachers, I am seeing the direct link between literacy and technology in the classroom.

Here is a specific example.  Just today our technology director came into my office to share two new sites he had stumbled upon.  The first one he took me to is  It has an abundance of educational videos related to any subject, any grade.  Some are short clips to actually show in your classroom, whereas others are short clips for professional development.  I watched one under “science” on the use of word clouds.  This 8th grade science teacher copies and pastes text that he will be using with his students into a site that creates word clouds.  The site sorts the words according to times of use within the text and creates a cloud with words in various text sizes depending on importance.  He gives these word clouds to students as a pre-reading activity.  They have to discuss and determine what the main points in the text will be, based on the structure of the word cloud.

Then, our tech director points me to  Voila!  The site that creates said word clouds.  So easy to use, and fun to play with.  Here is another example of how easy it is to incorporate reading strategies into any content area.  Here is my word cloud for this article.  Enjoy!

Motivating Boy Readers

What do humor and action have in common?  They appeal to boys.  Most boys actually enjoy being read to in their early years.  But what happens once they turn 8, 9, 10 years old?  They want to be running around…playing, laughing, making strange noises with their bodies.  Even if they don’t eagerly choose to grab a book and sit down to read, they can be won over.  Our challenge is finding books that interest them; books they can relate to.

Alan Sitomer tells how one must be passionate about what he is doing to make a difference.  We must win hearts before we can fill the minds.  Engagement (through action and humor maybe?) leads to motivations, which leads to comprehension, which leads to performance.  Kids who like their teachers will do better work for them.  Without joy, there will be no top tier of achievement.  (NCTE 2011).

Jon Scieszka says, “Humor is the most vital way to motivate kids.”  (NCTE 2011)

Some great authors who use humor:
Alan Sitomer

  • Nerd Girls, The Down Side to being Up, Homeboyz, Hip Hop High school

Gordon Korman

  • Swindle, Zoobreak, Show Off, Framed, This can’t be happening at McDonald Hall, Titanic series

Jon Scieszka

  • The Stinky Cheesman, The true story of the three little pigs, Smash that trash, Truckery Rhymes, Sorry Greg, Knucklehead, The Knights of the kitchen table series

Rick  Wallace

  • Sports Camp
  • Kickers series

Lenore Look

  • Alvin Ho series

Graham Salisbury

  • Calvin Coconut

Patricia Reilly Giff

  • Zigzag Kids series

Tony Davis

  • Roland Wright series

Jack Gantos

  • Dead end in Norvelt
  • Hole in my life
  • Jack Adrift
  • Joey Pigza swallowed the key

Jerry Spinelli

  • Crash
  • Loser
  • Maniac Magee
  • Stargirl

Boys can be won over, and kids can develop a sense of humor.  Look at the texts being used in the classroom.  How many are funny?  Are you using magazines and graphic novels?  It comes back to the magic combination of humor and action.  Most boys can’t resist it!

Reflecting Inspiration

This is a year of change for me.  The biggest change comes in my career.  I went from being a classroom teacher for the past fourteen years (mostly in second-grade) to becoming our school district’s Curriculum Director.  As I learn and grow in this new capacity, I find myself needing somewhere to reflect on this new world.  I am also getting ready to ask teachers to set up blogs for themselves and their students.  I figured if I was going to ask them to do it, I better be on board first.  I’m finding a blog is a bit intimidating for me.  I have some great writer friends with blogs and they always sound so intellectual and philosophical in their posts.  Puts a lot pressure on, if you know what I mean.  Well, this blog is, most likely, not going to be one of those…