Saturday, October 26, 2013

Tearing the Walls Down with Global Read Aloud

caption from icanread
This summer when I stumbled upon the Global Read Aloud project, I wasn't sure how I would incorporate it into our daily routine, and I definitely wasn't sure how I would connect with others using tech since I never really had before. However, I knew I HAD to try it out. It sounded fun and exciting- two adjectives that I sometimes felt I was missing in my classroom lately. I knew if it piqued my curiosity and made me excited, it definitely would interest my kids. I registered and joined the wiki, and we were on our way!

Unsure what all this was about or what it would entail, I felt obligated to find another #GRA newbie and make a connection. I met Phillip Jones via email. He, too, was a Global Read Aloud newbie and just as unsure as I was as far as what we were supposed to do or what this would even look like with our kids. We both quickly learned it was okay to have more than one connection and more than one way to connect. 
Today's Meet feed
We are currently in our fifth week of the project, and to say it has been amazing is an understatement. Our class has had Twitter discussions with other classes also reading the book, watched a live Twitter chat about the week's assigned chapters, created a shared Google Doc for ideas and notes as we read, which other schools have also added to and extended the dialogue; and most recently we had our favorite day ever. 
Through our class Twitter account, we saw another class was also reading Out of My Mind and they, too, had the mascot of a bear. Because they had the same mascot as us- my kids automatically decided to "follow" this class. (They MUST be cool if they, too, are the Bears! ....right?!?!!!) Their teacher, Dana Ariss (@gr34Bears), and I exchanged a few emails and Tweets and decided on a date for a Skype session. Dana and her class live in a tiny village in northern Alberta, Canada. She and I had a quick Google Hangout session the weekend before just to touch base and make sure all of our details were ironed out. For our Skype session, she would read half a chapter and I would read the remaining half via Skype. Our students would have access to a back channel using Today's Meet where they could post their ideas and discussions as they listened. Periodically she and I would also pause to ask a question or have our students reflect on something. To see my students ask thoughtful questions and engage in meaningful dialogue with others was phenomenal. After our chapter, we were able to have a short Q & A about their area and visa versa. The session ended with a promise to connect again soon....And my students have already hounded me on when... 
My third class was able to connect for a read aloud session for GRA with Craig Yen (@craigyen). I know Craig through Twitter and asked if he and his class could make a connection with us. To say I gave him short notice is an understatement. We attempted using GHO but had connectivity issues, so we switched to Skype. Our students also used Today's Meet for this session as well. When we read with Craig's class, he would read a few paragraphs and then I would pick up where he left off. He also had several Guest Readers, as well. In addition, several students from his class also asked our class questions and posed some of the reflection questions as we read. Due to the limited amount of computers, he had his students rotating for the back channel discussion. 

Colton uses our Class Twitter account to archive events.
Although we had two different experiences, they were both amazing! It showed me that 1. I don't have to have all of the answers or "know how" as far as jumping in to try it out. Dana knew it was my classes first Skype session and was eager to help and guide. And 2. even though connecting may look different each time, the details work themselves out. The end result is what matters; and the fact that I had engaged students having thoughtful and meaningful conversations with others was a #eduwin! 
Next we will be sharing a voice communication device similar to what the main character in our book uses with Mrs. Crain's Class (@CrainsClass). Again- this connection was sparked by a class Tweet.  My students are excited they have something to share with other students.

These connections have ignited a passion in my students to connect with others, to share what they know, and to learn more out of curiosity. One look at my students' blog responses tells me they are engaged and soaking up numerous reading skills (as well as digital citizenship and technology tidbits) far more than if I were simply reading a book aloud with no other way to reflect or engage. Simply stated, tearing down the walls with connections in various forms has allowed us to go beyond just a read aloud. We truly have a desire to make it global!

**Note- And not all global connections must be tech-infused. Case in point...

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Google Helps Students w/Reading Disabilities

As a Reading teacher, and also a mom who deals with reading struggles in my own kids, finding a way for my students and children to learn online content without someone having to continually assist with unknown words or becoming totally frustrated has been important. Working diligently to address and close the gaps in a student's reading deficits are always a top priority, but what happens when that child wants to learn more on a subject he is interested in? Or when she needs to do online research for an upcoming project in social studies? The fact is, when you have a reading disability, it affects not only your reading class, but your entire life.
This past summer, after downloading Google Drive, I discovered the app, "Read&Write forGoogle" in the Chrome Store. The tagline caught my eye, " help individuals struggling with reading and writing, those with learning disabilities such as Dyslexia, or English Language Learners." I knew immediately I must try it!

Once downloaded, the small green icon sits just below your Favorites tool bar. 

Once you click on the green icon, you have the choice of having the selected selection read aloud or hover speech. 

Other settings include how fast/slow the text is read and voice/expression (man's voice or woman's). After setting the features at a comfortable pace, we began to play with numerous websites and Google documents. 

It is nice to see a student successful. It is even better to see a student when he/she FEELS successful. Watching Read&Write for Google in action did just that. For some of the students I was using it with, it allowed them for the first time ever to explore a website without needing someone sitting over their shoulder to help with harder text; no one was needed to chunk the mutli-syllabic words apart... having a reading disability suddenly didn't matter as much. 

While we will continue to diligently work on becoming better readers, Read&Write for Google will continue to equip students with one more way they can take charge of their online learning. Knowledge is power; being able to do your own research and learning independently is fierce!

**Note: The makers of Read&Write for Google also have an iPad app for students called "Reading Champion." I haven't downloaded it yet, but am planning on it. I like the fact that students can read the text, listen to the text read aloud, and then record THEMSELVES reading the text, as well as note any words that were difficult for the student while reading. Once I download the app, and we have time to play a bit, I will write a review. If any of you are familiar with this app, or any other add-ons/apps to foster reading, please let us know in the reply section!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Dot Day Celebrations 2013

Recently I posted about our Dot Day Celebrations and explained what The Dot is all about. You can read that post HERE if you miss it.

For our Dot Day Celebrations, we started with reading The Dot by Peter Reynolds and discussed its theme. Students were encouraged to think about what they are passionate about. Many had never considered this. Some even asked ME what the right answer was.... So we talked about what being passionate about something meant and what goals they had for themselves in life. Because we listed our goals for the school year the first week of school, I at least had SOMETHING to pull from in pushing students to think of themselves in the future tense. 

We used a page from the ColAR apps website that was created with FableVision to create our own original dots. Students were asked to use many colors and designs to create a dot that reflects their personal personality. What students DIDN'T realize, is once they were completed, I was able to show them the mind-blowing beauty of Augmented Reality with the dot they created from FableVision and the ColARapp. I used their pictures with their Augmented Reality dots as just another metaphor of the potential they have inside themselves- little jewels of talents and gifts that other people notice when even they, themselves  may not. 

Next, we used folded manila paper and cardboard doll cutouts as templates to create "All About Me" paper dolls. The paper doll chains included 4 dolls (boys had boy cut outs and girls had girl cutouts) and each paper doll represented something different. The first doll included words that the students felt described them. The second doll had their name and birthday (the day they began truly making their mark on this world!), the third doll was to be drawn as the profession they felt they were interested in possibly one day becoming, and on the fourth doll, students were asked to have 3-4 classmates write an affirmation about them. The "All About Me" dolls turned out really great! Students enjoyed sharing with one another. 

My plan is to use the Dot Day pages (the one that works with the ColARapp) at Open House so parents can also experience the awesomeness of this real-life metaphor for originality being in us- even when we can't see it ourselves. I also plan to use the "All About Me" paper dolls to make a display of a visual map of the various global connections we are making this year through not only Dot Day but also Global Read Aloud

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Making Your Mark- What Dot Day is All About

Despite great intentions and ahead of scheduled planning, our efforts to experience all things that are The Dot got off to what was most assuredly- a rocky start. For those of you unfamiliar with The Dot, it is a charming tale of a young girl, Vashti, who feels frustrated she is unable to draw during art class one day. With the simple solution of her teacher, "Make a mark and see where it takes you," Vashti quickly realizes she CAN create art- and quite well. The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds is a reminder that we all have talents and abilities- even when those talents and abilities seem hidden and dormant. 

The morning we were to read The Dot, I arrived to school with frenzied excitement. Over the course of the night, I had played out the lesson in my mind, along with all of the wisdom I would impart on my young learners. I was downright giddy when the bell rang and the first class began filing in. 

Then reality hit.

My VGA cord to connect the iPad to our projector was acting up so the fact that I'd downloaded the book (actually I'd downloaded the entire Creatrilogy Boxed Set by Peter H. Reynolds at yes! It's that good.) to my Kindle app on the iPad did not matter. The entire story was sideways despite numerous attempts to fix it. I'm sure there is some easy and logical explanation/fix... but at that moment I was in a panic. On top of which, two students declared they hated each other, one came in not feeling well, and another moaned that he'd rather use this "reading time" to read a "real book." 

Not exactly what I had in mind. At all. What to do?

I quickly realized that THIS is what The Dot is all about! It's the reality that we are all called to do something in this world we may not feel equipped to do. And that's okay! Things (Life) may seem to have gone awry somewhere along the way, our cords don't work right, we're upset with our friends, we need someone to comfort us and help us to feel better- what ever it may be- sometimes things just don't go as planned, and we tend to take a stab at it feeling frustrated and weary. But then, when the circumstances are framed just right, we realize it's okay. We find the courage and strength to move forward and continue to make the best of what we have, using our never-before-used skills we sometimes keep hidden away because we aren't too sure we know what to do with them... and we end up inspiring others. 

So after a quick reminder about what true friendship is all about, a snack to take the edge off of an upset stomach from not eating breakfast, and an agreement that if The Dot isn't hands-down a favorite after reading, we never have to use "reading time" for un-real (?!?) books ever again---- we read The Dot. (And it actually came up the right way once I plugged in the cord a billionth time; so we weren't looking at it sideways this time!) 

Needless to say- Vashti is now one of our favorite characters. We have referenced her several times in random discussions. My students have even gotten to know the enormously-talented, Peter H. Reynolds a bit through our class Twitter account. 

So, I leave you with this: today may be somewhat of an "off" day (maybe if you're like me it sometimes feels like an "off" week) and you may not feel like you have much to contribute, but don't doubt your abilities, your talents. Just make a mark... and see where it takes you! You never know when you'll inspire others doing it! 

*Be sure to read the next blog post on our #dotday activities! Students enjoyed setting goals and thinking about how they will make their mark on this world!