Do You Want to Join Our Group? #12MonthsBlogging

Much has been written about the efficacy of teachers reflecting on their practice through blogging.  

As teachers, we often ask students to reflect on their learning; since we are the lead learners in our classrooms, shouldn’t we be reflecting too?  Some people keep a journal. My daughter creates journal entries a couple times a week, and she tells me that she talks about what happened at school or with her friends (no, I haven’t read it – there hasn’t been a need).  Other people (like me) don’t want to write something that no one will ever read.  That’s when a real, authentic audience cinches the deal and makes blogging a win-win situation for me. If someone else is actually going to read what I write, then I’ll take the time to edit and make sure I’m writing exactly what I want to say.

 

The problem with blogging comes down to actually writing. Is it writer’s’ block? Is it fear that people will label my choice of topics as cliche? I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s because writing inevitably ends up at the bottom of my to-do list.  Perhaps there’s fear that my readers will find my topics boring or boorish.  But you know what?  It doesn’t really matter.  A reflective blog is about MY learning, and if others somehow receive drive-by benefits, then it’s a bonus for both of us.  

Writing and editing a post doesn’t really take that long, so what I need is a support group to keep me on task – you know THOSE people who nag you until you finish (start?) your workout or call your mom? I need a group of fellow educators intent on improving their craft to join with me as I work through my teaching.  Is doesn’t matter what your job title is.  You could be a superintendent or a custodian.  We are all in the business of ‘doing what’s best for kids’ and in our collective effort of furthering that cause, we can learn from each other.

Enter #12monthsblogging.

For each month, there will be an overarching topic with specific writing prompts.  You can write your own post about the topic, or if you need more focus, use one of the prompts.  OR (in an effort to be totally student-driven) disregard the prompt all together and write something of your own choosing.  It doesn’t really matter what you write about – just make sure you have a message to communicate.  Fully flesh out your idea, and post it on your blog.  Advertise it on Twitter using the hashtag #12monthsblogging.

#12monthsblogging monthly topics

Finally, while you’re on Twitter, check out #12monthsblogging yourself, read some posts by fellow bloggers, and leave a comment or two.  

In the end, I’m hoping that regular posting to my blog will help me solidify some of my opinions on education.  That way, when people ask my opinion on a topic, I will have already examined my own biases, explored the evidence, and come up with a reasoned take on the subject.

I’m hoping you’ll join us – there’s no need to sign up, just post and tag on Twitter!

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Writing with iPads 2: Putting Words on “Paper”

Apps 4 Writing


INTRODUCTION:
In Writing with iPads 1: Brainstorming & Organizing,  I covered how to get kids to start thinking about writing – topics and ideas to start those wheels turning, and then how to organize some of those ideas, whether with a traditional mindmap, or with little post-it notes that could be rearranged.  This section will describe some apps which can be used to actually get words onto paper (such as it is…), and allow editing.  Aside from Dragon Dictation, they all provide basically the same functions: writing and editing with the ability to save into Google Drive.  You need to play around with each one and determine which one suits you best.

Dragon DictationDRAGON DICTATION:  This app allows the writer to speak into the iPad and have his/her ideas converted to text.  I can see this as being especially beneficial for students who struggle with keyboarding or handwriting.  You tap the ‘+’ sign in the upper bar, the red button to start recording, tap the screen when you’re finished talking, and everything you’ve said appears on the screen in text format.  You cannot save to GDrive, but you can copy (don’t worry about highlighting – it just copies everything) and then open another app, such as one of the ones below, and paste.  You can then edit and save to GDrive.

PaperDesk LTPAPERDESK LT:  The app is probably the most intuitive of the ones described here.  It looks like a notebook with a menu (that can be switched from one side to the other).

 

  • the audio adds an audio file – it does not change the audio to text.
  • you can import pictures from your iPad or a picture you take.
  • You can make different paper, including graph paper and a musical staff
  • You can type words, or write them with your stylus (or finger)
  • Tracks the number of words.

NoteMaster LiteNOTEMASTER LITE:  NoteMaster is a pretty straightforward notetaking app.  It’s designed to have writing done with a keypad (as opposed to handwriting).  One can insert pictures and drawings, although the drawings are turned into pictures, and not actually on the note itself.

 

  • No audio
  • Can import pictures from your iPad, the camera, or a drawing (opens up a new page where you make your drawing, save it, and it’s inserted into the previous page of notes).
  • different colored papers available, but no graph paper or musical staffs.
  • Has easily selected themes with different fonts and a slider bar for font size.
  • Menu on the left shows all your folders of notes.
  • If you toggle on the hyperlinks mode, any phone numbers, emails, or URLs will become ‘hot’ or clickable.

NotabilityNOTABILITY:  Probably the most inclusive of the writing apps highlighted here.  This app will also be featured in my papers on Reading with iPads as a great way to get students to actively read.  Depending on your taste, this will either provide you with tools you will love, or with too much ‘extra’ stuff you would rather do without.

  • Audio notes can be inserted, but not changed to text.
  • Importing media includes photos from your iPad, the camera, figures (shapes and lines of varying thicknesses and fill), web clips (sends you to either Google or Wikipedia; when you click ‘done’ it takes a screen shot and inserts it into your notes as a picture), and stickies (four available varieties of post-its you can drag onto your notes and draw on, &/or add captions to).
  • Bookmarking feature
  • Search function
  • Various paper colors (15) and line thicknesses (4) and graph paper sizes (4).
  • Includes an optional left-handed mode


GDrive
GOOGLE DRIVE:  While we usually think of Google Drive (GDrive) as strictly for storage, you can also create documents and spreadsheets within the app.  There are no fancy frills such as handwriting or different colors of paper.  You can do basics.  The main advantage to using GDrive for word processing is that others can collaborate at the same time from any other computer (desktop, tablet, laptop, etc.).

Office2 HDOFFICE2 HD:  This handy app is actually quite powerful. It will take any of your existing Microsoft Office files (Excel, PowerPoint, Word) and allow you to edit them on your iPad.  You can then save them to GDrive.  While I’m not sure I would START a document on this app, and I would not recommend it to students, it sure is nice to be able to work with all my old files!

What other apps do you recommend for teaching writing to students with iPads?  Do you have specific lesson plans or processes you follow?

Writing with iPads Pt1: Brainstorming & Organizing

StoryStarters

Using iPads for writing instruction can be
intimidating.  Just remember that you don’t have to do all of
it at once.  Choose one app or one step in the writing process
with which to begin your infusion of technology.  Of the apps
I experimented with, these are the ones I found to be the
best:


Story
Dice
is a simple app that can be used to come up
with topics for all ages, even the youngest kids who can’t read
yet, since it’s all in pictures.  Simply select the number of
die you would like to have showing, shake, and roll.  Kids
could each make a story using the same die rolls, and then could
vote on which had the best character, plot, overall story, etc.

Shake-a-phrase has three
parts:  Shake It!, Story Starter, and Quiz Me!  Shake It!
generates silly, random sentences where you can tap words for
definitions.  Story Starter gives a ‘what if…’, ‘Imagine
if…’, ‘What would happen if…’ sentence that would get students
writing.  Quiz Me! gives a silly sentence and asks the
students to tap a certain part of speech (nouns, verbs, adjectives,
prepositions, or conjunctions).  You can choose from all or
just one to differentiate.
Idea Sketch allows you to
mind map your writing with curved lines and Idea Sketch allows you
to mind map your writing with curved lines and different colors.
It allows you to rearrange them, too.  You can only
share by sending to email, FB, or to your camera roll (which would
allow you to save it for later projection or viewing on the same
iPad). photo copy 8 Popplet
Lite
is another version of graphic organizer
that allows mindmapping.  Export features include emailing as
a .pdf or .jpeg, or it can be saved as a jped on the iPad.
photo copy 4
iBrainstorm looks like
post-it notes on a Masonite board.  You can change the color
of the Post-it squares and you can draw on the board with different
colored markers.  Exporting options are sending in an email
and saving to photos. iBrainstorm Corkulous
is similar to iBrainstorm.  You cannot write on the
board, but there are a lot of different shapes that can be
attached, and you can change the color of the post-it notes.
Just use the file drawer at the bottom of the page. Corkulous In Part 2, I’ll go over apps which are good for
making the ‘Sloppy Copy’ and for editing.  In the meantime,
try one or two of these this week.  No one expects you to
adopt all of these at once (although you are more than welcome
to!), but the only way you will become comfortable and familiar
with them is to play with them on your own and use them with the
kids.

Fixing Bad (Writing) Habits

artwork: youngwritersconference.org

I’m really excited because this week I’m scheduled to guest teach a writing class for fourth graders.  My goal is to unteach some of the bad habits these students have learned over the years with Power Writing.

Don’t get me wrong; I think Power Writing has it’s place as an introductory method of illustrating the parts of a paragraph.  But when, as a 7th grade Language Arts teacher, almost every student would hand in an essay that ended with, “In conclusion, I think that…” I just about took my flair pen and embedded it in my retina.  Topic sentences don’t always have to be at the beginning of a paragraph, and what happened to concluding sentences providing one last piece of information – one last, new image for the reader to consider?  How do students transition from the blocky essays of my 7th graders to the fluid, interesting examples one hears on NPR?  Somewhere, students have to unlearn those bad habits taught in elementary classrooms with programs such as Power Writing, and it might as well start with me.

BACKGROUND:  Mrs. P., their teacher, wants her students to write a paragraph on something for which they are thankful so that she can put up her Thanksgiving bulletin board in the hallway in time for Parent/Teacher conferences.  Got it.  Good to have a reason for the lesson.

TECHNIQUE:  Subversion.  They’ll never know what hit ’em.

PLAN:  This week during regular journaling time, students are writing a list of things they like.  Not what they are thankful for, but what they like.  This will serve as their idea list for Thursday.  On Thursday, I will come in and perform a Writing Think Aloud for them as I write about something I’m thankful for.  I will not start with, “I am thankful for my mom and dad for three reasons.  First…”  Instead, I plan on telling them a story, giving them sensory details and maybe even some dialogue, using strong verbs and avoiding ‘be.’  They will hear how I vacillate with my word choices and sentence structures.  They will witness how entire sentences are deleted and replaced without hurt feelings.  And then when I finally hit them with the topic sentence of what I’m thankful for at the end of the paragraph, all that narrative tension will find release.

Whew.

Try it.  Join me in fighting the bad habits taught to students everywhere by the evil Power Writing Curriculum!