Wordless Books for Inferring

We used this book today in ELA to talk about making inferences. It’s a beautiful book packed with rich illustrations that often had students gasping. They inferred using, “I see __________, I know _________, I can infer __________.” It was an interesting exercise to have students slow down and think about why their brains had leaped ahead to making inferences.

Plickers (technology for formative assessment)

Today I had the opportunity to teach @allosamson how to use Plickers. This post has been sitting in my drafts folder since ISTE2015 so I thought it was a good chance to pull it out!

At first glance, Plickers doesn’t look like much; it’s an online quiz platform where students use printed Plickers to buzz in their responses. I was first introduced to the idea by @jmattmiller at ISTE2016 when he included them throughout the presentation. You bet I was more engaged when I knew there would be questions throughout! The concept is simple but the resulting information on classroom learning is invaluable!


The platform provides for rich formative assessment. Many teachers use exit cards at the end of a lesson to quickly assess students for their understanding and that’s how I used them in my classroom. The key to an exit ticket being that it can be filled out in a minute and can quickly be assessed for understanding.

The beauty of Plickers is that it is all of that without a pile of paper at the end of a lesson to go through. It’s anonymous to students as they answer. As the teacher scans, students can see themselves appear on screen as having responded but they don’t see how each student responded. The teacher only on the scanning device sees a quick flash of red (incorrect) or green (correct). Afterwards, the teacher may return to answers and see which students have responded correctly to each question and it allows targeted teaching in subsequent lessons.

In addition, I have used Plickers to have students write questions for one another. This takes some skill on their part to craft a good question and to predict some of the mistakes that might be made to find multiple choice answers.

The advantage of Plickers over other digital buzz in devices is price. Printed Plickers are free (while there is a paid option for more durable printed targets). Since my classroom uses relatively little in terms of photocopies, I consider a set of Plickers extremely reasonably priced.

Would love to hear how you’re using Plickers!

Engaging Every Reader Through Multiliteracies: audiobooks, talk-to-text, and video… Oh my…

When I meet a parent for the first time they want to know: can my kid read, write, do math, and get along with other kids? I outline for parents how we use Daily 5 literacy strategies in our class room and students interact with text I many ways every week. In order to be a reader a students needs to read A LOT! In order to be a writer a student needs to write A LOT!

One of my first goals is for every child to love reading, writing, and creating. If they’re not hooked on the amazingness inside text they’ll never see the value in working with it for work or play.

When I suggest multi-literaticies and adaptive technology I am often met with some resistance but here’s my personal experience: I blog on my phone 90% of the time. I dictate to notes while driving a 60 minute or longer commute. I listen to audio books. I read, highlight, annotate, collaborate, create for my masters class mostly on mobile devices. The future is already here. When I signed up for an online masters degree I committed to not printing any of the 100+ pages per week we were assigned to read. I do it all on my tablet and I’m going to argue that most of what readers consume is not actually printed.

Multi-literacies are for every learner not just struggling learners! Knowing how to engage with a story told orally is as important as reading a text. Reading a novel is as important as watching a documentary.

My classroom goal for every student is for them to experience success with text, but I think we need to be aware that text space is changing for kids. I used to pour over newspapers, to borrow stacks of books from the library and to fill piles of notebooks that were destined to be novels (don’t count me out on this one yet ;)


But we need to be aware that students do not interact with text the way learners did 30 years ago. It is not static. It’s full of hyperlinks, it talks, it interacts. Multiliteracies allow an access point for every student; students who are struggling readers can access texts that would be too difficult to read but that they understand when spoken. They are capable of inferring, connecting, recounting, and otherwise interacting with this text. Students who struggle to read a long text often readily engage with audio books.

Short videos

Creating video responses is another important multiliteracy. It takes a great deal of patience and practice for students to create video representations they are happy with. Students repeat, provide and respond to feedback, revise, and perfect. Video has been a powerful tool in immersion as it allows students to hear themselves speak.

Long videos

Responding by creating is an important multi-literacy for children; when they know their creation will be consumed and enjoyed by others it gives them purpose. Create a book trailer, a puppet show, or an Explain Everything video.

Talk typing

Siri does a lot of my typing these days. I’m a commuter and spend roughly 90minutes per day in my car. This time is precious and I get frustrated when it’s lost but this blog post was composed while driving. Of course I came back later to edit, hyperlink and add photos but the brainstorming and first draft were spoken. For me this is still not a natural form of writing. I still compose quietly and then speak outloud, much like having a phone conversation with Siri, I guess.

Picture rich content

Ebooks arean accessible source of content and web reading takes up much of our time for text consumption. Readers need to know how to handle a text that is rich with images, titles, subtitles, and hyperlinks. What students interact with is no longer a static document and knowing how to interact with it is no less a literacy than knowing how to read a book. Don’t believe me? Head over to Reddit as see how long it takes you to figure out how to access the content you’re looking for.

Web forms

I recently filled out an application for something that I might fill you in on later (or I might not, ’cause that’s the way I roll and it’s my blog) and it required me to do some pretty deep thinking. I completed it on my mobile device. While adults might balk at completing work on such a small space, it’s not foreign to students and the ability to interact with online content is important. Have students create a plicker quiz, use google forms.
To borrow a phrase from Thomas King, an influential writer for me, “the truth about story is story is all we are.” Multiliteracies allow for mutiple entry points for every student to find a way to interact with story and to make their story known.

I would love your ideas on how you integrate multiliteracies in your classrooms!

A Fine Balance (a post I almost titled: “I can’t” and other lies we tell ourselves)

I originally wrote this last Sunday and published it briefly before taking it down out of respect for Joe Bower. This post is intended as a tribute to an educator who profoundly influenced my teaching and blogging in spite of only knowing him online. I suppose it speaks to the power of social media that I felt I knew him so well inspite of having only really met him in person once and I’m sure he wouldn’t remember me. I so clearly remember thinking “Well, that’s all well and good for Joe, but I can’t do what he does.” 

I spent the day meditating on “I can’t”.

His work and writing inspires me.


The original post follows:

Sunday, January 3, 2016

I was seeking inspiration this morning as I head back to the classroom Monday and imagine that I’m not alone. I love my work. Reading and writing about teaching and learning is interesting and exciting. Working in the classroom is fun and rewarding. But we’re in a place where the hill gets steep; report cards are due in a week, we are in the thick of projects, I’m well slept right now but school starts in the morning, back to a masters degree, back to the track, back to being mom, packing lunches and helping with homework.

Sound familiar? 

Forgive me if I get philosophical, I’m coming back to my thesis: inspiration.

I went online today to get my dose of inspiration from like-minded educators on their last days of winter break and instead I learned the sad news of @joe_bower’s passing.

It’s left me rattled. Not because we were close; he’s someone I follow on Twitter, whose blog I read, who I only had the opportunity to meet face-to-face once but he influenced my thinking on teaching and assessment over the past while. His constant reminder that students are at the centre of what we do and that a conversation is always more valuable than a grade made a difference in the way I provide students with feedback.

I fell into a rut lately, thinking of myself in terms of “just”. Just a mom. Just a classroom teacher. Just a student. I can’t make a difference.

This post is not intended to turn a loss for a family, for students and for the many colleagues he influenced into something about me. Instead, I want to say to Joe that he made a difference in the life of someone he didn’t even know. In that way, his work as an educator and a writer extended beyond the work he did day-to-day with students and colleagues. The entire day has been spent reflecting on “I can’t”.

Running started for me from a place of profound loss many years ago; I spent three weeks unable to move, so lost, so dead in spirit, I forgot how to breathe. I did the only thing I knew to get out of bed: I put on my running shoes. The only place it seemed I could remember to breathe was in my running shoes, and for thirty minutes or an hour it became the pain I could control. I was just a middle-of-the-pack athlete. I still am. But running and triathlon made “I can’t” go away.

Three years ago, I met my coach when I decided I needed to do the impossible: Ironman. I needed to control the tornado. And six weeks after we met, she assigned a 1500m time trial. “Look,” I said, “You don’t know me that well… I can’t swim 1500m all in a row.”

“Ok,” she said, “just try it.”

And I did.

“I can’t.” And I knew in my heart that it was true. I couldn’t.

Yet I did.

Somehow I learned a thousand lessons from running and applied them to my life and my teaching. “I can’t” became a starting point instead of an end point. But I applied the principle unequally.

I met Joe at EdCampYYC only long enough to thank him for his discussion on ungrading assessment. It was a wonderful, inspiring conversation but, “That’s fine for him,” I thought, “He’s in a different place in his a career than I am. He can do that kind of thing… I can’t.” And yet… He challenged me to reconsider the objectivity of a grade book. My grade book has gotten considerably thinner but feedback to students has become considerably richer thanks to Joe.

“He can do it… But I can’t.”

But wait… I don’t really believe that’s true. Just a mom, just a blogger, just a classroom teacher, but I can make a difference. I went looking for inspiration and found it in an unlikely place. Someone I hardly knew made a profound difference in my practice over the past years and the best I can do is continue what he inspired.

What is it that every student needs? An advocate. Someone who, every morning, greets them with a smile and the unfailing belief that even though it’s not easy to do, that they can and will achieve the goals they set. That someone will see the potential even when it’s hard for them to see it. Our students need to know that even when in their hearts they know they can’t that we know they can.

I have written, deleted, rewritten, and rewritten this post because I’m having a hard time putting it into words. I do not wear my heart on my sleeve easily, but I feel that as a tribute to someone who took on so impossible a task as Joe Bower, this is not a bad way to do it. 

My condolences to his family and friends. I am so glad I got to know Joe and his ideas through Twitter and through his blog.

I can’t becomes, yes, actually I can.

Breakfast Book Chat

This post is mostly for fun.

Breakfast book chat was a lesson I borrowed from a colleague many years ago when I took over her classroom when she went on mat leave. Basically, students read a novel independently with several check-ins over the span of the novel study, which usually takes about 8 weeks. At the end of reading, students are allowed 3 sessions of time in class to respond to the book. On the final session, students bring their books and their book reports and spend the morning talking about books. As a bit of a celebration, we share breakfast.

Today, students discussed The Year of Billy Miller over their cereal box book reports and enjoyed a bowl of cereal together.

It was so interesting to hear students discussing the book and enjoying one another’s responses to the book.

It was such a hit with the kids that I’m sure we’ll do it again. In the third grade, many students are not yet ready for an independent novel study, so I was glad to have done the first one with our book for the Global Read Aloud, which gave everyone a taste of what the expectation is.

For the next session, I think I will set students up with books at their own level and help them to work through independent reading and representation of their book but I’d like to spend some time discussing how we might represent our reading first and would like to open it up to a choice of 2-3 possibilities.

Students enjoyed our morning together and have requested waffles or pancakes for the next one, which actually makes me pretty happy… pancakes are cheap :) and I’m pretty sure I can talk a few parents into helping us out in the kitchen!

Stay tuned for further installments!