Monday, July 28, 2008

A Humbling Experience

Over the last couple of months I have had the distinct honor to be hired as a consultant for Alpha House Publishers to begin to assist them in marketing their books using the tools available online. This grand opportunity has stretched my experience beyond measure and has allowed me to have but a glimpse into a different side of business outside the four walls of a classroom

Probably one of the most unique experiences thus far was like a scene out Peter Senge's book, The Fifth Discpline. The Executive Editor of this Publishing House led a collaborative brainstorming session with her authors to begin to design and construct a Mission Statement.

It was quite humbling to be able to sit with them at the table and witness this organizations values being laid out and discussed among all stake holders. I was asked to sit in and I took notes during this session and about 5 minutes into the conversation I had one of those magical moments of clarity where I knew I was experiencing something very special and very unique.

The Authors and the Executive Editor were willing to open themselves up briefly to good ole fashion dialogue, and they reached a point where each member sitting at the table, contributed a portion of their values and ideals that will ultimately help this Publishing House develop their identity.

Here are but a few quotes that came out during this "brainstorming" session:
  • caring about the process as well as the product
  • we are truly writing from an international perspective...world is interconnected and the issues cannot be divided by borders.
  • we have a shared responsibility as a human race and we express this in a practical way through our books.
  • we are allowed to make valued judgements
  • we are writing with integrity
  • I want to be aware of who you are as a whole person
  • words are powerful tools for change at many levels...sometimes at less obvious levels.
  • connection between the page and someone in ways you would have never predicted or thought about.
  • This Publishing House is a tool in the service of other people.

This was the first of many discussions I am sure, but right from the start I was able to witness an exchange of ideas among employees and employer, which to me is simply fantastic. I believe that the Executive Editor understands the value of a learning organization with a "shared vision" and seems to have naturally begun to embed these values.

I leave you with a fitting quote from Peter Senge:

When you ask people about what it is like being part of a great team, what is most striking is the meaningfulness of the experience. People talk about being part of something larger than themselves, of being connected, of being generative. It becomes quite clear that, for many, their experiences as part
of truly great teams stand out as singular periods of life lived to the fullest. Some spend the rest of their lives looking for ways to recapture that spirit.

(Senge 1990: 13)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

What are Your Reading Habits?

What are your reading habits?

It takes me a great deal of time to get through one book and this has always been the case. I especially find it very difficult to stay focused when reading online because I can't jot on the paper or in the margins. I read with a pen in hand and in all of my books I have key phrases underlined, interesting words circled, questions in the margins, and ideas that I get that are written all over the pages. This "active" reading process allows me to stay focused, concentrate, and contemplate while I am reading and I simply have an incredibly challenging time doing this while online.

What have I tried?

To keep reading as much an active process as possible, I use Google docs, Google Notebook, and wiki's a lot and "jot" down ideas as I am reading but it's still not the same for me. I am looking for ways to help me deep read while online so I can then transfer this knowledge into my classroom to help my students and ultimately my own children overcome this great challenge as well.

Also, I find myself printing off those articles I really want to deep read as well. I then able to have a conversation with the author while "jotting" on the page, but this isn't really helping me while online.

The Internet is not going anywhere and it is certainly changing our lives in a multitude of ways and one of which is the way we read. I have just finished reading Is Google Making us Stupid? and it reminded me of an article I wrote about a month ago, Get Into Your Bubble, that fits in nicely with Nicholas Carr's premise that the way we read is evolving.

As educators, we are living during extraordinary times where we are charged with the responsibility to help students navigate and become successful in this 21st Century landscape while holding fast to tested and proven instructional strategies, especially in literacy. How then can we transfer those skills that effective readers use while reading online?

What have I tried?

We talk openly as a class about "deep reading" from day one until the end of the year and how easy it can be for our minds to wander when we are reading. The question then becomes, "what do we do when we realize we have no idea what we have just read?" Each day I provide the students with sustained silent reading where they can continually practice deep reading, and getting into what I call The Bubble.

However, I taught a "Tech Class" this year and noticed very quickly that students were not transferring those same skills that effective readers use while sitting at the computer.

I would see screens being scrolled up and down and up and down, students clicking from link to link and very quickly losing focus and attention. So, I would find myself stopping the class and bringing this to their attention. The message was driven home but I would still see most students skimming the surface of what they were reading.

What else have I done?

I have setup a discussion board where I would link to a particular article from Time for Kids and then provide a couple of open ended questions for them to respond to after they read, and this gave me a chance to see their thinking and ideas that came out of this reading. They then had the opportunity to see what others have answered and generate conversations within the class using the technology.

This was a nice scaffolding piece for me to evaluate students reading skills while online. The interesting piece was however, that those struggling readers very quickly realized that this was going to be work and had a hard time with this activity despite the fact that it was on the computer. Once the novelty of the computer wears off we as educators are then challenged with helping students continue to transfer what they know about good reading while sitting in front of the computer.

Deep reading is hard for me while online and I am still trying to figure it out for myself. I think to be a better teacher of the 21st Century Skills that will be needed I first must experience this overload and figure out how to manage it for myself before I can ever help my students.

So, what are your reading habit and how do you manage to concentrate in the midst of all of the distractors?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Taking a Step Back

I took some time tonight to analyze the design elements of one particular blog by Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project, which is outside of the edublogs I normally read. I then happened to stumble upon an article by Seth Godin, How to get Traffic to Your Blog and these two folks got me to-a-thinkin'

Within Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project blog, I focused on the right and left margin and found a plethora of fantastic bells and whistles that kept my attention and kept me scanning for more interesting nuggets of information. Seth's comprehensive list will keep me pretty well occupied for quite some time - thanks Seth.

Blog Analysis
The Happiness Project
  1. Professional Photo ~ this is what Seth would have called a salacious photo
  2. Short Video ~ rather simple but very effective and can be easily done using iMovie.
  3. 3 ways to subscribe ~RSS, Newsletter, email
  4. My Twelve Commandments - a personal touch
  5. Different Places She is Found online (Twitter)
  6. Every Wednesday is Tip Day ~ Keeps them comin' back.
  7. What Started My Thinking - quotes from authors that have inspired her
  8. Happiness Library - other links that are not her own that relate to her subject
  9. Podcasts - again...very simple but very effective and can be done easily using Garage Band on the Mac
  10. Life Remix ~ a badge to the Social Network she is a member of.
Overall ~ this is a very busy blog with a great deal to consider just in her left and right margins alone. I have not yet read any of her posts yet but learned a great deal about her from what I have READ, LISTENED, and WATCHED just in the margins. This blog has been in the making for about 2.5 years and I am sure she has added these elements a little at a time over the life of this blog.

So for me it's pretty important to step out of the edublogosphere but for a moment and take a critical look at the design elements of my blog and consider some changes. I am not sure about the salacious photo but Gretchen and Seth have left me with a great deal to consider.

What elements do you think I should consider adding to this blog? Any and all advice would be welcomed.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Get Into Your Bubble

Get into Your Bubble

I long to have students experience that magical moment when they are reading independently and they loose track of time and are completely immersed in the story. To get to this point takes some conscious work that starts with the student being able to choose a Just Right book, having a positive attitude and perception, and a place where they can feel comfortable. Some students come by this moment of being in the zone very easily and others may have never experienced it before. I like to call this mystical moment "getting into our Bubble" and once we are there its like floating effortlessly, until our Bubble is popped of course.

We talk openly as a class about those times we are reading a story but can think of something else while we are reading. "Have you ever been reading and got to the bottom of the page and then realized you have no idea of what you just read?" I am pretty sure we have all been there, at least I know I still continue to struggle with this attention issue to this very day.

So, I am guessing that if an adult reader is struggling with this issue then my 11 year old students are too. I think having this open discussion brings to light a very natural reading experience that we all have however, I always ask the students what do we do once we realize that this is happening during our reading? Usually I hear, "go back and reread," but are they doing this independently?

Here is another variable to consider; how does this meta-cognitive strategy work while we read on the computer? During our class periods where we are digging through Databases or Directories we talk about the mighty mouse that allows us to move very quickly through an article which can be very distracting. I push the same kind of deep reading strategies while they read on the computer but it is incredibly challenging and I am not convinced that we ever really get into the flow, according to Csikszentmihalyi, of reading while sitting in front of the computer.

Even as an adult I truly struggle with getting into my Bubble when reading through blog posts, PDF articles, or whatever I am reading online. Perhaps this is the nature of the beast with link upon link that allows us to go "deep" into a particular subject. For me, it simply creates a great deal of frustration on how to organize it all. This is where I have been working with Google Docs, wikis, and Google Notebook.

I am getting there but look it, I have been paper trained and there is a part of me that longs to write and read on the "old" medium. I know we are spending more and more time online and its up to us as educators to help our students manage a massive amount of data and then organize, synthesize, collaborate and then share all of that which they come across globally - and believe it or not I am still struggling with this myself.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Notebook Know How

First book I am reading this summer ~ Notebook Know How ~ Strategies for the Writer's Notebook by Aimee Buckner.

I have actually had this book for awhile and read the first couple of chapters already and have now started to reread. I dabbled with the Writer's Notebook last year with my fifth grade class and found that it really took a life of its own and did indeed become a treasure for my students.

I have attempted to live like a writer myself in that I try to find the beauty or symbolism in everything around me. The problem is I haven't really taken the time to write as much as I reflect. I don't know, it's all about balance right? So this summer I have decided to start my own Writer's Notebook that I intend to share with next years group of students.

What a Writer's Notebook anyway? Well, according to Aimee:

The purpose of a notebook is to provide a place for students to practice writing. It's a place for them to generate text, find ideas, and practice what they know about spelling and grammar.
This book seems to hold promise and is filled with little gems that grabs you and won't let go. For instance, here is a line from page 7 that has me hooked for this summer's little writing experiment:
I now realize what writers have been trying to tell us "nonwriters" - that we shouldn't write for significance, but rather that we should write as a habit. Sometimes we'll write something significant and sometimes we won't. It's the act of writing-the practice of generating text and building fluency-that leads writers to significance.
Keeping a notebook isn't something you "get." It's not a science, there is no one right way. Keeping a notebook is a process. It's something that "gets" you- leads you from one thought to another until you, too, experience the writer's joy of discovering something you didn't know you knew.
Fantastic ... So, I have purchased a journal and have begun the process and there is something very comfortable about writing on paper these days.