Monday, February 28, 2011

Interactive Letter Writing Resource

The website Read Write Think has a fantastic tool available to help teach letter writing. They have provided an interactive letter writer.

Here is a description taken directly from their website:

"The Letter Generator tool is designed to help students learn to identify all the essential parts of a business or friendly letter, and then generate letters by typing information into letter templates. A sample letter is included, and students can learn about the parts of a letter by reading descriptions of each part.

Once students have become familiar with letter formats, they are prompted to write their own letter. Students follow the steps and fill in specific fields in the template (for example, heading, salutation, closing, signature, and so on). They may even add a decorative border and postscript to the friendly letter. The finished letter can be saved, e-mailed, or printed.

This useful tool provides step-by-step instructions for familiarizing users with the necessary elements of written correspondence, and can serve as an excellent practice method for composing and proofreading both formal and informal letters."

They also provide a number of lessons that utilize the letter writer. They can be found here. Many of our teachers are starting to connect with schools around the world via Epals. This interactive letter writer would be a great resource to assist in the development of our Pen-Pal letters.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Writing to Reflect, Engage, Learn, Publish and Connect

Writing in the 21st century has gone digital.  We are keyboarding instead of applying penmanship. We post to message boards, blogs, emails, twitter accounts, corporate intranets, Facebook and various other web-based sites and services. Writing has also become 3 dimensional. You don't need the latest pair of 3D glasses to experience three dimensional writing. Just open up any webpage and you will find text that contains hyper-links to additional content, embedded videos, embedded documents and audio streams.

Students, teachers, and our 21st century workforce must posses the skills to navigate, consume, analyze, organize and apply information that is written in this format. In order to be successful in the 21st century we also need to learn how to write three dimensionally.  For our students, this requires opportunities to write for an audience by utilizing a web-based publishing platform.  

The recent edition of Educational Leadership, published by ASCD, focussed on the topic "Teaching Screenagers".  One particular article written by Will Richardson discussed the importance of student publishing their work online. The article quoted a recent study by the Pew Research Center's Internet  and American Life Project.  This study showed that 75% of teens regularly use social-networking sites and the vast majority publish updates,  photos, videos, and more (Lenhart 2010). Analysis of this activity identified that these posting are primarily "friendship-based" (MacArthur Foundation, 200*)

While it is an important skill for students to learn to navigate and find success in the "social web" it is equally important that they are provided with opportunities to apply the foundations of "what good writers do" to web-based publishing. Writing is a process. It is also a significant contributor to student learning and achievement. Reflection is an example of a writing process that can be applied to any subject area. In the past students maintained reflective journals on paper. These journals were written for one audience, the teacher. While there is value in the process of reflection and writing, our students are missing out on the opportunity to share their thoughts with an audience, collaborate with individuals who share similar interests, and learn from others who read and respond to their thoughts, opinions and summaries.

Journaling in the 21st century has shifted from the notebook to blog postings. Students  who are provided with the opportunity to publish their thoughts, ideas, and opinions in a blog are writing for a global audience. This forum differs from writing in the "social web"  They are now writing for an audience that they do not know.

As teachers we must  not only provide our students with opportunities to publish, we should also model it. Each year, a growing number of educators are  maintaining their own blogs. Teachers share their thoughts, instructional strategies, successes in the classroom, student work examples and new resources. Many teachers allow students the opportunity to guest post on a their blog. A student my write about a topic they are covering in class. Teachers may invite subject area exports to comment on student blog postings or to guest write a posting that students  may comment on.

When students maintain their own blog they open themselves up to new opportunities to learn from others. They create a digital presence for themselves. This presence is the first step in developing their online presence. As Will Richardson states " They are now Googleable".  The future for the job seeker is going to be less about the 2 page resume that is printed as a word document. It will be about the interactive portfolio of work, writings and just "how Googleable" you are.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Student Blogging Grades 2-12

In my most recent newsletter I wrote an article about the benefits of students blogging. In that newsletter I mentioned a number of web-based tools that we have available in our district to support this initiative. One of the sites I discussed is Kid Blog.

I have found Kid Blog to be a very easy to use tool for creating blogs for your students. All of the student accounts and blogs are created by the teacher. A teacher can select different levels of moderation for the blog. Unlike other blogging platforms where a teacher would have to organize various website addresses to view student blogs, kid blog displays all of the student blogs on one screen. The features available with Kid Blog simplify the process of blogging with students.

When students publish blog postings it is up to the teacher to decide if the postings remain private between the teacher and student or can be viewed and commented on by the entire class. There is also options to make the blog postings public for the world to see.


Monday, February 7, 2011

Digital Writing - Start with a Purpose and Audience - RAFT

If you are looking to work on digital stories with your students or would like to engage your students in the writing process the following will be helpful. In our district we incorporate the writer's workshop framework. We are also looking for innovative ways to implement writing across the curriculum. The RAFT STRATEGY is one of the strategies that we have been exploring.

The document below provides some great examples of how writing can be implemented in various subjects. Each example provides examples of non-traditional purposes for writing. You will see a variety of audiences that students may write for. My Digital Writing Wiki provides resources that can be used to create and publish these writings and stories.

Click here for the complete document

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Explore the Museums of the World - Google Art Project

I have been working in instructional technology for the past 10 years. During that time I have experienced the development of some amazing instructional tools. The Google Art Project goes directly to my "best of" list of innovative web-based tools!

The Google Art Project uses Google Earth street view technology to allow visitors to take virtual tours of the top museums in the world. Visitors can navigate the hallways, zoom in on art work to see the details of the brush strokes, view information about the artist, and build a personal art collection. There are so many great features to this site . I embedded a YouTube video that provides a short introduction to this site. It is well worth the three minutes it takes to view it. The video is from YouTube so if necessary you may to use a firewall override? (Jefferson Teachers please use your firewall login to bypass the filter)

Here is the link to the video:

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Search Google by Reading Level

Google has developed a powerful new search feature that students and teachers will benefit from. You now have the ability to search by reading level. Google classifies search results by basic, intermediate and advanced reading level. You can choose to only view one of the levels in your result or view all of them with an annotation identifying the level next to each.

Finding, managing and qualifying information found online is a complicated task for students to manage. It is however one of the most important skills that a student can develop in the digital age. Many elementary teachers struggle keeping students on task when searching online.  Many times i am asked how do we convince students to narrow their search results and not just trust the first 3 or 5 results that are returned on a search.  By teaching students how to narrow down search results to a reading level that is appropriate for them we provide them with results that are manageable.  When students can  make sense of the materials they are finding th

ey are more likely to look at it more critically. They will also find more relevant results on the first page of results.

To utilize this new feature you must go to and click on Advanced Search next to the search bar.

Once inside the advanced search menu you will see ?a drop down for reading level. From there you can select only one level or the option to view all results with the reading level annotated.

In my example I am searching for "the civil war" After i select  "annotate results with reading level" I click the advanced search button. My search results are displayed.  There is a bar graph that displays the number of results by reading level. If you click on the reading level in the bar chart, Google will only display results with that reading level. You will also notice that each search result has its corresponding reading level written next to it.