Does this blog post make my digital footprint look big?

Bugs Bunny Feet
Bugs Bunny Feet by marya on flickr. CC by 2.0

Funny story about feet:

For some reason, at the end of 7th grade, I wanted my feet to stay size 6 forever. I completely rejected and would not acknowledge the growth of my feet. When my mom took me school shopping and we realized that my feet had grown a whole shoe size over the summer, I almost refused to get new school shoes. I was so mad that my feet had grown that much and were now H-U-G-E! I laugh when I think about that now, because my feet, of course, have continued to grow.

I wanted my (smallish) feet to stay small forever, but they didn’t. They couldn’t. They were meant to grow, and so they did. As it turns out, my big feet have taken me places that the 7th grade me could never have imagined.

I’ve discovered that my digital footprint is a lot like that. When I began using technology as a teacher, I was very conservative (almost stealthy) when it came to my digital footprint. I was happy to browse for ideas and information for my classes, and I was glad to find so many resources I could use.

I was very wary, however, of maintaining my privacy, and tried not to leave any breadcrumbs on the sites I visited: no comments, no “likes” or “+1s.”  Instead, I quietly “favorited” several “go to” sites in my browser bookmarks and admired from afar the amazing teachers who developed such great ideas for using technology with their classes, and who found the time to write about their experiences and post them on their blogs. I also admired their courage for putting themselves out into the world like that, but I never imagined myself doing it.

I have learned a lot over the past few months and have really grown as an educator, however. Several weeks ago, I created an “About” page for my blog. I had to complete the task as a class assignment; otherwise, I’m not sure I would have ever done it. Creating the “About” page made me think about my online presence for the first time and why it mattered. I have also had the opportunity to share learning experiences and insights through blog posts I have written and have written comments on other writers’ blogs. I have also shared great ideas I have found online with others and followed and participated in Twitter chats (and I’m still here!) 🙂  Even more than that, my participation has made me feel connected to like-minded professionals.

I understand now that I am part of a global community of educators who share a common goal of helping our students become empowered and effective participants in their communities – and in this world. Reaching out to others in the global teaching community, in a spirit of collaboration, makes me feel more empowered as an educator, too.

I thought keeping to myself, staying “smallish” while taking advantage of what others were producing was good enough. I realize now that I have something to contribute to the conversation, and I’m jumping in with both (big) feet!

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Lights, Camera . . . Learning!


Video Camera By Popperipopp (Own work) [Public domain]
on Wikimedia Commons

I recently completed my first digital storytelling project plan for my Intensive Reading classes.  It was a joy to work on the project because I constantly thought about how my students might respond to the different activities involved and what it would mean for them to actually create a digital story about one of the books they had read during the semester.

I also thought a lot about my own reasons for putting together the project. I know my students will enjoy working with the technology – They get to learn how to use Garage Band and iMovie, and they will also get to watch other students and adults perform Spoken Word pieces as part of the research for their project. Further, they will get to exercise individual interpretation of a story and personal expression in writing their poems, selecting images and music in designing and “telling their story.”

Aside from the motivational value, though, I want to be sure that the project I am asking my students to undertake is pedagogically sound and beneficial to them, not only as students living in a digital world, but also as developing readers.

As an experienced reading teacher, I rely on my pedagogical knowledge base and previous experience to inform my decisions when considering new activities to use with my students. I am familiar with best practices when it comes to teaching reading skills and strategies. My sense about integrating technology into my lessons has always stemmed from the idea that technology provides a means for delivering a more interactive and engaging learning experience for my students.

I am beginning to understand, however, that the value of technology integration goes beyond the role of providing motivation or engagement for learners. Technology is also changing the way we think, learn, and communicate with each other. It is helping more students learn while at the same time expanding our potential as humans to learn and make sense of the world around us.

Digital storytelling is just one way that teachers can integrate technology into their instruction in Intensive Reading classes, and, according to research, it provides opportunities for significant development in students’ ability to comprehend what they are reading.

I read several research studies this week that mentioned the benefits that digital storytelling provides with regard to helping struggling readers develop skills in visualizing what they are reading – skills that some deem a prerequisite to any significant comprehension of text (Enciso, 1992; Hynds, 1997; Wilhelm, 1995, cited in Malin, 2010, p. 122).

According to Eisner (1992) “We cannot know through language what we cannot imagine. The image—visual, tactile, auditory—plays a crucial role in the construction of meaning through text. Those who cannot imagine cannot read” (quoted in Malin, p. 122).

Other studies discussed how students benefited from the sharing aspect of digital storytelling. Rooks (1998, cited in Thesen & Kara-Soteriou, 2011) found that students who shared story projects with other students took more risks in their learning. They experimented more with their writing conventions. To me, this suggests that when students share their digital stories with others they experience greater confidence in their abilities as learners and also as producers of knowledge.

One of the problems that struggling readers often face, as mentioned in Gunter and Kenny (2008), is a negative sense of their ability to be effective or “good” readers. The authors suggest that research supports the idea that this negative “assessment of self-efficacy” (p.87) when it comes to reading, is a motivation killer and the cause for many students to feel reluctance when it comes to reading (Keller, 1983; Mott, McQuiggan, Lee, S., Lee, S.Y., & Lester, 2006; Taylor& Gunter, 2006, cited in Gunter & Kenny, 2008). The authors also suggest that use of digital stories, to introduce struggling readers to new books, and also having students produce digital stories is motivating.

Students who may not be strong readers can get extra support by viewing already- produced digital stories before they select and read a book, and students who produce digital stories have an opportunity to demonstrate strengths they may have in other areas beside reading.

All of the studies I read helped me to understand the specific ways in which a digital storytelling project could benefit my students, as readers. Having this awareness will ultimately help me to provide the best learning experience possible for them.  I love all of the possibilities that technology integration provides for my teaching and for the students’ learning. I just always want to be sure that I am employing the use of technology in my classes for the right reasons.


Gunter, G., & Kenny, R. (2008). Digital booktalk: Digital media for reluctant readers. Contemporary Issues In Technology & Teacher Education8(1), 84-99.

Malin, G. (2010). Is It Still Considered Reading? Using Digital Video Storytelling to Engage Adolescent Readers. Clearing House83(4), 121-125. doi:10.1080/00098651003774802

Thesen, A., & Kara-Soteriou, J. (2011). Using digital storytelling to unlock student potential. New England Reading Association Journal46(2), 93-100.

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Digital Storytelling Project Update

I’ve been working on creating an example for the digital storytelling project I would like to have students in my 9th and 10th grade Intensive Reading class complete.  Here is a link to the project on our class wiki:

Intensive Reading Digital Storytelling Project

For the project, I plan to have the students choose a novel that they have read during our Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) time. The students will write a poem that expresses the theme of the story they’ve selected. They will then create a video using selected images, their spoken word poem, and music.

In the example I created, I used the theme of the short story, “Ambush,” by Tim O’Brien. The story is about a veteran of the Vietnam War and the guilt he feels years after he returns home to the U.S. The broad theme of the story is that all of our actions have consequences, the effects of which we may not realize until later. The narrower theme is that soldiers in a war are often faced with morally difficult or morally ambiguous decisions and they may bear the weight of those decisions even after they return from war.

I thought that, “Ambush,” would make a good story to use for the example because the students read O’Briens, The Things They Carried, which includes, “Ambush,” in their English classes in 9th grade. We also read “Ambush” as part of our Reading program to practice analyzing the parts of a story, so I felt that most, if not all, of the students would be familiar with the story line. We also talk about the theme of the story in class. I felt this would help students, also, since we could discuss the thought process I went through, first in writing the poem, and then in selecting pictures and music to further communicate my ideas about the theme.

According to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for 9th and 10th grade English Language Arts, students should be able to “determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze . . .  its development over the course of the text.” With regard to writing, students should be able to” use narrative techniques to develop experiences, events or characters.”

My goal for this project is to help students demonstrate their understanding of the theme of a novel in a creative way. I feel that allowing the students to select words, images and music to express their ideas will help them connect with the theme of the story on a deeper level.

I would like to ask readers to evaluate the example I have created and provide feedback on its suitability for the intended audience: 9th and 10th grade students in an Intensive Reading class. I would also like readers to consider whether the project idea and the example I have created appropriately match the learning objectives for the project.

One concern I have with the project, is having students visit YouTube for examples of spoken word poems. Our school does allow access to YouTube for school projects; however, I am concerned that students might be tempted to browse around on YouTube. Even if they only browse for spoken word poetry, they may come across content that is inappropriate for school.  I looked on School Tube and Teacher Tube for examples of spoken word poetry performances, but felt the examples I found on YouTube were better examples for my students. I plan to discuss appropriate use of YouTube with my students before they visit the site, and I do walk around and monitor students while they are working, but I would like to know if there are any other ideas about how to address this concern.

Thank you for any feedback and/or suggestions! 🙂


National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers. (2012). Common Core State Standards for English language arts in literature. Retrieved November 8, 2013 from

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For My Students: Digital Story Telling Project Plans

This blog post is dedicated to all of the reluctant readers I’ve had over the years: Students like Dwight, who told me flat out in the beginning of the year when I introduced our Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) routine that there was no way he was going to read; and to Dylan, who made a similar proclamation.

Dwight went on to complete over 30 novels by the end of the year – and showed no signs of slowing down when he left our class. Dylan went on to devour any book about cars that he could get his hands on. I had trouble keeping up with him some weeks, because he’d finish a book before I could think of another to recommend for him. I’d say, “You just started reading it,” and he’d reply, “I know. It’s just so good; I can’t put it down.” Their journal entries were a testament to the fact that they did indeed read and enjoy the books. There are many more stories like this, and they inspire me each year. So, to my reluctant readers, I would like to say, thank you, for continually reminding me of the joy of discovering a really good book and how good it feels to finish one!

Invariably, whenever my students finish a good book, they are dying to talk about it to anyone who will listen. The final journal entries they write about that book often span several pages – without me asking for it. I usually have the students complete a project each semester for one of the books they’ve finished reading. I haven’t tried doing anything digital with the students yet, so I would like to try completing a digital storytelling project with them next year.

Thinking about the project

Here is a sample end-product I have in mind. (Start with the end in mind!) 😉

When I first saw this video, I knew I wanted to have my students create something like it. The main themes of the video, overcoming obstacles, self-discovery, and self-acceptance are some of the major themes that run through almost any young adult novel, and they are themes that many teenagers can relate to on a deep level.

My students are also drawn to spoken word poetry, rap, hip-hop, and creative expression through drawing. Many of them share their work with me before or after class, or I witness it written or drawn on their notebooks, their arms, their pant legs, the desks, etc.

Our curriculum

In my 9th and 10th grade Intensive Reading curriculum, we use a textbook and interactive computer program. The textbook is divided into workshops that are based on high-interest topics for teenagers. We use the reading passages to practice reading strategies such as finding the main idea and understanding different text structures and elements that aid readers in comprehending text. I often bring in supplemental digital materials to help the students connect more with the reading passages in the workshops. The students really enjoy the supplemental materials and often ask about making such products themselves, but so far, I haven’t tried this.

As part of the reading program, students also spend a portion of their time reading independently-selected books. To help students get interested in reading books first, instead of just sending them off to the reading area to read for 20 minutes, I’ve implemented a Sustained Silent Reading period at the beginning of each class. The daily SSR only takes 10 minutes. The students read their books for 8 minutes and then use a double-entry journal to write a brief summary of what they’ve read and their reaction. This required reading time helps students “get into” the books they are reading.

As a culminating work, I usually have students complete a final project each semester on one of the books they have read in SSR. The students have a lot of different activities to choose from, but I have not yet offered the opportunity to produce a digital work. I would like to add this type of project to my curriculum.

Project outline and curriculum page resources:

The storytelling project I have in mind, would involve students creating a narrated video, using spoken word poetry and examples from the book, to illustrate the theme of one of the books they’ve read during SSR. Specifically, I’d like my students to think about one of the books they’ve read during SSR, and to consider how the conflict and resolution described in the book relate to the theme of the book. Students would use a combination of pictures and words to express their ideas in a 2 to 3 minute-long narrated video.

To help students think about what books they would like to read and for ideas about ways to present information about a book in digital video format, the students could use the following resources.

The Digital Book Talk browse page gives students an opportunity to view Video Book Trailers to learn about different books before they select them to read.

The Teen Reads book reviews page, gives readers a list of suggested titles to read with text descriptions of the books.

Scholastic offers readers a list of novels written in verse. I have found that many students enjoy reading this genre, and it will give students an opportunity to see how verse can be used to communicate ideas and themes. Students can also view examples of (clean) spoken word performances on YouTube.

Students will also need access to resources to help them create their video. For this project, I like the video creation software, Voice Thread. It offers free individual accounts, and students can comment on each others’ completed videos. There are also tutorials available that students and I could access to help us create our videos. A drawback is that I would have to purchase an educational license for my students, if I wanted to establish accounts for just our class, which would be easier to keep private and monitor.

Students could create media for their presentations by collecting pictures from a host of sites that provide copyright free or shareable images that meet Creative Commons licensing criteria. Some of the sites that provide these resources are:

Wikimedia Commons – provides hundreds of copyright-free images
Google Advanced Search – this site provides a feature that allows users to search for images that meet Creative Commons licensing standards for copyright free, or shareable images. Many of the images come from flickr or Wikimedia commons, but this site provides a quick way to search multiple sites at the same time.
Flickr Storm is another site that allows users to quickly search flickr for copyright free or shareable images.

I would also need to provide teacher-created resources for the students to access including lessons and templates to help students write spoken word poems. I found a good example of a lesson for teaching spoken word poetry on Marsha Waldman’s website. Having a template and a well-planned lesson for introducing spoken word poetry will help students as they begin developing their ideas for their videos.

I also plan to teach a lesson on copyright for students. Bernajean Porter’s website digitales offers good resources for teaching about copyright laws and how to find copyright-free resources.

Finally, students will need storyboarding templates as well as instruction on how to complete them. Jake’s Online website offers free storyboarding templates for download.

To differentiate the lesson, I would give students the opportunity to work in pairs to write a poem for two voices that they could either perform and have video-taped, or could use as the narration in a digital video that uses pictures. There are guides and templates available for helping the students and me through this process, too.

I love working with teenagers because they are so curious, passionate, creative, and opinionated. They love to express themselves and I would like to give them the opportunity to do that through this project. I can’t wait to get started!

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Digital Storytelling in the Reading and Language Arts Classroom

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Computer Literacy Requires Knowledge and the Right Attitude

Computer Problems  By XKCD HTTP://XKCD.COM/722/

Computer Problems By XKCD
CC by-nc 2.5

If someone asked me whether I considered myself to be computer literate, I would say, “of course.”  After all, I feel competent using computers and other technology. I know basic hardware and software terminology. I can troubleshoot pretty well and can do most of the things I want to do with computers by either figuring them out on my own, using the help features provided with a program, or searching for answers on the Web.

I know that I don’t know everything, however. For example, I don’t comprehend or write computer code (yet). I would probably hesitate to open the back of my laptop to put new memory into it (for now).  And although I am gaining familiarity with productivity software and Web 2.0 applications, I still have more to learn.

So, what exactly does it mean for someone to be “computer literate?” Shelly, Gunter and Gunter (2012) define computer literacy as having “. . . a current knowledge and understanding of computers and all their uses (p.4.)” The authors also provide in their book extensive information regarding what teachers should know about computers and technology integration.

I agree with the definition provided by Shelly, Gunter and Gunter, but I’d like to add to it. I think computer literacy also has to do with a person’s attitude when it comes to working with computers and technology.  People who are truly computer literate, in my opinion, approach technology differently from those who are not computer literate.

Computer literacy is having knowledge and the right attitude

To me, a person who is computer literate doesn’t “freak out,” or throw up his hands if something on the computer doesn’t work the way he wanted or expected it to work – or if the program suddenly freezes or shuts down. He understands that sometimes this happens when working with computers and he troubleshoots the issue, using what he knows about computers to try to resolve the problem. (This doesn’t mean he wouldn’t sometimes like to throw his computer out the window.)  😉

I would also add, after reading Kim Cofino’s blog post, Making the Implicit Explicit, that a computer literate person is aware of the transferability of skills when it comes to using computers. She is able to use her experiential knowledge to quickly and almost intuitively figure out how to use new programs and technology. Cofino addresses this flexible type of thinking by explaining that there are, “. . .things that are common from program to program as well as on multiple operating systems. They’re not specific tasks that you only use once in a while, they’re things we do every day, and those that are comfortable with these skills often find learning new technology tools a lot easier than those that are not.”

Cofino argues that teachers should make these skills and understandings explicit for their students, so the they can become more aware of the skills and transfer their knowledge from one application to another.

Educators need true computer literacy

Cofino expresses her concern about teachers who, themselves, are not computer literate, however, by asking: “ . . . who’s going to be having this discussion with [the students] if their teachers aren’t comfortable with these implicit skills either?”

Developing computer literacy skills, as well as having the right attitude when working with computers, is necessary for all teachers because teachers are role models for students. Being able to work confidently and competently with computers or technology in the classroom adds to a teacher’s credibility with his or her students. If a teacher exhibits befuddlement or frustration around computers, or surrenders all responsibility for operating the computers to the students, he or she is not sending students the right message.

When working with technology, there are always going to be problems. Teachers who can address computer issues with measured confidence have the opportunity to model problem solving, persistence, and creative thinking for their students. They also help their students learn the basics of troubleshooting and trying to figure things out using flexible thinking and logic. This is great practice for students in using Twenty First Century thinking skills!

I believe true computer literacy (knowledge and attitude) can be achieved by everyone. The more teachers, students, parents, administrators understand about using computers, as well as how to approach working with computers, the more confident and comfortable they will feel responding situations that are new or challenging. Cofino refers to this “technology mindset” in response to a comment on her post.

As teachers we must continue to develop our computer literacy, and for those of us who feel comfortable using technology, we must help our colleagues who may not share the same level of knowledge or comfort and “make the implicit explicit” to them, too.

In her post Cofino started a basic list of implicit skills that computer literate or computer savvy users know, and she invites readers to add to the list.  Justin James also provides a good check list for all of us in his blog post 10 Things You Have to Know to Be Computer Literate. It is worth checking this list, as well as Cofino’s post to learn what we need to know as teachers.

Combining this knowledge with the right attitude will help us act as role models of true computer literacy for our students, parents, coworkers and others.


Cofino, Kim (2009, December 10). Making the Implicit Explicit. [Web Log post] Retrieved from October 9, 2013.

Shelly, G., Gunter, G. & Gunter, R. (2012) Teachers discovering computers: Integrating technology in a connected world (7th ed.) Boston: Course Technology, Cengage Learning.

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Helping Our Students Find Their Way in the Digital Age

Road Sign

Road Sign by Ian Britton on flickr
CC by 2.0

Part of being a good citizen in any society involves knowing and understanding the common rules and expectations governing behavior and following them. As a teacher, I assume that my 9th and 10th grade students have been in school long enough to know and understand the basic rules for behavior in school and in the classroom. However, I also make a point of explicitly discussing my expectations for the students’ behavior in our classroom community at the beginning of each year. I also share these expectations for behavior, in writing, for students and their parents, so there will not be any misunderstanding about what is expected and permissible.

Further, I carefully embed policy and procedure orientation and practice into my lessons during the first few weeks of class, so students, parents and I can work through any questions or problems with policies and procedures at the beginning of the year.

My point here is that, in explicitly outlining expectations for behavior and participation I am trying to help my students understand how to function successfully in our classroom so that everyone will feel secure and valued as we work together to further our learning throughout the year.

As I read this week about security issues and ethics in education, I thought about my experiences using technology with my students, and I realized that although I had used technology to complete many projects with my students, I had never taken the time to actually discuss security and ethical issues with them beyond some very general guidelines.

I now know that my approach to integrating technology in my instruction has to include careful, considered and explicit guidelines for students regarding safety as well as ethics. As their teacher, I need to engage my students in conversations regarding security and ethics when using technology and social media. I also need to provide opportunities for them to practice using what they learn and offer guidance and support as necessary.

There are many good sources of information available to help teachers, students and parents think about and discuss issues of security and ethical use of technology. The Computer Ethics Institute offers The Ten Commandments of Computer Ethics, which provides a good springboard for discussion within the classroom.

Blogger Jac de Haan also offers some suggestions for resources that teachers, students and parents can use to learn more about participating securely and effectively as digital citizens. And finally, the blog post on academic honesty by Megan Arnett and Amy Taylor provides educators with an excellent lesson and ideas for teaching students about avoiding plagiarism.

I want my students to be successful both inside and outside of our classroom. Part of their preparation for success has to include regular, intentional conversations and instruction about security and ethical issues related to their use of technology.


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