What the NAEP2011 Writing Assessment Means for Technology Use in Schools

What the NAEP2011 Writing Assessment Means for Technology Use in Schools

On September 14, I attended a Webinar on the outcomes of the Writing 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress for Grades 8 and 12. The full report can be accessed at http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/writing/.

As we know, NAEP assessments have occurred since 1969 and provide a pretty reliable snapshot of educational progress in the U.S. The 2011 writing assessment is the first that has used technology as part of the assessment.

All 8th and 12th graders who participated in the assessment did so using a word processing program on the computer, rather than using pencil and paper. Because of this, new scales and achievement levels were established and webinar presenters (including Arthur Applebee and Elaine Chin) were careful to stress that the findings could not be directly compared to past results for that reason, although results indicate students have the same strengths and weaknesses as revealed in the past by pencil and paper tests.

Also in the 2011 assessment, the types of writing required of students are in alignment with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS, 2010) stressing the reinforcement of three writing capacities. These three types of writing prompts were used with different proportions of use for the two grade levels:

%  Assessment 8th %  Assessment 12th
Persuasion 35 40
Explanation 35 40
Convey an Experience 30 20

Scores were based on six performance ratings and scored as “first drafts” rather than polished writing samples. The ratings may be found in the report.

Writing prompts were provided with interesting technology. On a computer screen divided vertically like the pages of a book, the left half contained the prompt with specific types of multimedia, including an audio prompt at 8th grade and a video prompt at the 12th grade. In the webinar, a prompt for conveying information asked students to describe a desert island and the multimedia added the sound effects for the prompt.

There were a number of program tools that students could elect to use as they wrote (prompts were based on Universal Design) and students’ tool use was tracked and generally associated with higher scores…but more on that later.


The major assessment findings were that at both 8th and 12th grades, only about 24% of those assessed scored at the “proficient” level, as is seen in the screen shot from the website (below). About half the students assessed scored at the Basic achievement level.

Gaps continue to exist among ethnic groups and there is also significant variance for student performance by gender and school location.  For example, at the 8th grade level, the scaled scores showed Asian students scoring the highest at 165, while the lowest scoring ethnic group were Black students at 132.

There is also a rather large gender difference with the scaled score for 8th grade males at 140 and for 8th grade females at 160. Scores for 12th graders were closer, but the gap is still sizeable.

The following screen capture illustrates this point:

Finally, the school type and location appears to matter. While public schools comprised 92% of the sample, scores for students in private schools scored higher overall with students in Catholic schools scoring the highest.  Suburban school districts had higher scaled scores than did those in cities, towns, and rural locations. These scores can be seen in Table A:

At 12th grade, the highest scoring ethnic group was White at 159, while the lowest was Black at 130. The gender gap was somewhat less stark but still extant, as was the benefit of attending school in a suburb.

Poverty continues to make a substantial difference in students’ scores. Those eligible for free lunch had a scaled score of 134, while those who were not eligible had a scaled score of 161.

Technology Use

Beyond overall scores, there are many implications for educators. One question appears to have a positive answer: the use of word processing tools for the assessment appear to be more engaging.

Of interest to those who enjoy the intersections of literacy and technology are the findings that emanate from the word processing actions used by students. Questionnaires were given to teachers of 8th grade students completing the assessment. Teachers reported on how frequently they had students using computers to write and revise drafts. The data showed that 44% of students had teachers who reported using technology in writing; these students scored higher than those who had teachers who did not use technology as much in their writing.

As noted above, students who used the tools available (cut/paste, text-to-speech, spell-check, thesaurus) scored higher than students who did not use these tools.

For 12th graders the technology was a little more sophisticated, as the prompt included video as well as audio. In this sample prompt, students were asked to speak to an audience of college admission committee members to persuade them how technology is important and valuable to them. The video provided statistics of technology use.

Both 8th and 12th grade students who said the use a computer more frequently to edit their writing scored higher than students who did not.


For all educators, there is an urgent need to embrace technological tools for communication and composition in our homes and schools. There are examples everywhere of sound technology use in schools (see my blog on Literacy Beat dated August 22, 2012 on the use of Strip Designer for writing at the Kindergarten level).

This summer I taught a class on reading fluency and the students and I discussed writing as a part of reading fluency. The experienced classroom teachers in my class had a spirited discussion about the use of spell-check in composition, with half arguing that over-reliance on this would negatively impact students’ writing at the early elementary grades. While I am unaware of research that directly addresses this question, I believe that tool use is a hallmark of human beings and should be encouraged.

While the 2011 Writing Assessment did not include 4th graders, there was a separate study conducted to assure NCES that 4th graders could use the tools. While findings have not yet been released, they appear to be positive for tool use.  Right now, NCES is recommending that Keyboarding skills begin at third grade. Interestingly, early childhood education groups are recommending children learn to keyboard much earlier. I recall, from my own teaching in the early 1980s, teaching keyboarding skills to my first graders in a California public school.  I also offer this photograph of my son-in-law and my twin granddaughters (aged 3 and 1/2) on a “Digital Morning” with the understanding that teachers will increasingly see  tech-savvy students like these in their classrooms.

There are an increasing number of resources for learning about and using technological tools in the classroom. Most organizations are now providing online assistance to teachers in using technology. For example, ASCD now has a website with tools for teachers to learn to use the CCSS (http://educore.ascd.org/) and the International Reading Association is now merging their Engage feature with Reading Today Online to form a new blog. Such assistance is becoming more common. Of course, there are books out there, too, such as the one DeVere and I published with Guilford this year (see Bridget Dalton’s blog on Literacy Beat dated August 7, 2012).

Thus, I have ventured to suggest some recommendations for educators, as shown below.

Teachers need to:

1)   Find ways to incorporate technology into their classrooms with the tools (however limited) that they already have.

2)   Argue on behalf of technology, using the research evidence at hand—such as the 2011 NAEP Writing Assessment outcomes.

3)   Seek workshops and professional development opportunities to develop their own expertise in technology use.

Administrators need to:

1)   Support teachers’ use of technology in the classroom.

2)   Argue at the district level on behalf of technology use.

3)   Seek workshops and professional development opportunities for themselves and their teaching staff.

Teacher Educators need to:

1)   Work collaboratively within the university to distribute technological use across the teacher preparation programs instead of relying on  “Ed Tech” courses.

2)   Seek workshops on technology use for themselves.

3)   Where possible, seek student teaching placements for teacher candidates where technology is being used productively.

If you have other ideas, I welcome your responses!


Wolsey, T.D. & Grisham, D.L. (2012). Transforming writing instruction in the Digital Age: Techniques for Grades 5-12. New York: Guilford.

Common Core State Standards Initiative (2010). Preparing America’s students for college and career. Washington, DC:  National Governors’ Association and CCSSO. Retrieved from: http://www.corestandards.org/the-standards.


Using Strip Designer for Literacy Learning

Using Strip Designer for Literacy Learning

“In order to be read, a poem, an equation, a painting, a dance, a novel, or a contract each requires a distinctive form of literacy, when literacy means, as I intend it to mean, a way of conveying meaning through and recovering meaning from the form of representation in which it appears.” (Eisner 1997, p. 353)

It has been 15 years since Eisner eloquently reminded us that we are moving from a text-based world to a multimodal one where we learn to learn from a fresh variety of sources and communicate generatively with a vast array of tools at our disposal. Schools around the U.S. have not always been quick to adopt such new tools and in some cases have moved to discourage the use of new literacies and evolving technologies in the classroom. In other places, such technological innovation is not only welcomed, but also supported.

We find a welcome case of such support in Napa, California, where a non-profit institution, NapaLearns (napalearns.org) has become a benefactor of technological innovation, providing grants to schools in the area for the purchase of tools and training. You may learn a great deal about the efforts of NapaLearns by visiting their website.

Here I would like to highlight one of the projects that NapaLearns funded. The project takes place in a public school and in the Kindergarten classroom of a very talented teacher, Ms. Martha McCoy. Martha and I became acquainted through her graduate program in Innovative Education at Touro University, where I taught research methods last spring.

In Martha’s words:

This year our kindergartners embarked on a great journey to explore the ways technology can be used to enhance their learning. In addition to crayons, paper, pencils, playdough, puppets, puzzles, play, manipulatives, and realia, we are learning with iPads.

Our students are primarily English Language Learners, 100% of whom are living in poverty based on qualifying for free or reduced lunch. Less than 2% of the students’ parents graduated from high school in the U.S. and 17/18 students only speak Spanish at home.  These students are at the greatest risk of school failure.

The strategy for use of the iPads was to provide early academic intervention focused on building English language vocabulary and school readiness in our most ‘at risk’ students. The iPad enhanced kindergarten project began as a partnership between NapaLearns, a nonprofit organization, Calistoga Family Center, a family resource center, and Calistoga Joint Unified School District. The partners share in NapaLearn’s mission to “re-imagine learning for all children in Napa Valley …to promote implementation of education innovation and promote student- centered 21st century learning…so our students can compete in a fast paced technology enhanced world.” (NapaLearns Mission Statement, 2010).


Martha completed an action research report to ascertain the effects of a partnership in her school between her kindergarteners (who knew iPads) and 6th graders at the school (who knew about writing). The Kinders and the 6th graders worked in cooperative pairs to create comic strip posters to show preschool children (who would be in K the next year)  what a typical day in Kindergarten looks like.

The Kindergarteners used their iPad cameras to take pictures of typical scenes in a Kindergarten day. They also drew pictures using Drawing Pad (see screen capture below).



The drawing pad application costs $1.99 and I purchased it to try it out. Don’t laugh (I’m not an artist!), but learning the program was simple and here is a terrible example.

For those of you who know my husband, Marc, he is well represented by a firetruck (we own one from 1949). Me, I’m always up in the air.

The students put this photos and text together using another iPad (and iPhone) application called Strip Designer (see screen capture below). This program costs $2.99 and I also downloaded and tried it out using photos.

Strip Designer also has a tutorial and is relatively easy to learn.  I’ve done a couple of the comic strips, but instead of sharing mine, I have Martha’s permission to share one her student did:

But probably the best way to get the essence of Martha’s work is to view her Animoto on the project, also created for the Innovative Learning program at Touro (under the auspices of Program Director, Dr. Pamela Redmond). You can view this at http://animoto.com/play/xLgpKJU7wrQjLe1qaVfWuQ.

You can also get more information about Martha on her weebly website: http://msmccoysclasswebsite.weebly.com/

One project is complete, but new learning continues. Martha is busy planning new efforts for this academic year. She has already designed lessons on digital citizenship for the K-6 team. She plans for 6th graders to learn about Internet safety, cyberbullying, and respectful (and responsible) digital behavior to prepare for teaching their Kindergarten buddies.  Then they will design posters, digital books, and skits with their Kindergarten buddies about how to be safe and respectful online. Martha plans to weave elements of Internet safety throughout their projects all year long and build it into their rubrics.

I can hardly wait to see the results!

In the meantime, I am planning a little research of my own with the collaboration of four high school teachers who will use Strip Designer to scaffold the literature they will be using in their classrooms. Much more on that later.

There are so many ways that the above two inexpensive programs can be used to scaffold our students’ learning. The Drawing Pad art can be emailed and archived, as well as placed in “albums” and books to be viewed online or printed out. Strip Designer is very productive also. I have written before with colleagues on the uses of graphic novels in special education (Smetana, Odelson, Burns, & Grisham, 2009; Smetana & Grisham, 2011), while having used them with mainstream classes. Storyboarding and graphic novel writing is made easy with Strip Designer. There must be many more uses of this that readers of this blog can envision! A very positive part of this is that one iPad can be used to do all of this. Martha has iPads for all her students, but even if you have one in your classroom, you can provide enormous benefits to your students with very little expenditure.

What are YOUR ideas for using these new tools? All ideas and comments are very welcome!


Eisner, E.  (1997). Cognition and representation: A way to pursue the American Dream? Phi Delta Kappan, 78, 349-353.

Smetana, L., Odelson, D., Burns, H. & Grisham, D.L. (2009). Using graphic novels in the high school classroom: Engaging Deaf students with a new genre. Journal of Adult and Adolescent Literacy, 53, 3, 228-240.

Smetana, L. & Grisham, D.L. (2011). Revitalizing Tier 2 interventions with graphic novels. Reading Horizons, 51, 3.

Multimodal Supervision of Literacy Lessons

Since my retirement from the California State University in 2010, I have become a self-styled “Internet Freeway Flier.”  A freeway flier is what we used to call instructors who were employed part-time by several community colleges or universities. Those intrepid individuals “flew” over the freeways of Southern California from one assigned class to another.  I like teaching online—although I also like teaching in the brick and mortar university—so in the past two years, I have been asked to teach online classes at five different universities in five very different programs. Each assignment has allowed me to investigate the intersections (pardon the pun) of literacy and technology.

Most recently I was asked to teach an online supervision course in the Reading Language Arts Authorization (RLAA) program at Fresno State University. The RLAA is a graduate level literacy program designed primarily for experienced teachers as part of a larger Master of Arts in Teaching program. Usually, teachers come to a brick and mortar clinic where children also come to be tutored. The teachers are supervised by university faculty to make sure that they learn how to assess the students, how to address students’ identified strengths and needs through tutoring, and how to evaluate the outcomes of instruction in order to plan their next instructional steps. This recursive process requires feedback from the supervisor to the teachers. I have taught in such brick and mortar clinics before.

In this case, Dr. Glenn DeVoogd, Chair of the Literacy and Early Education (LEE) program at Fresno State asked me to do an experimental class, which he and I will be writing about at length in other venues. But for this blog, I’d like to immediately share how this course was structured, how teachers responded to it, and what they say they learned from the process.

Teachers were enrolled at Fresno State in a course, LEE230, which used to be taught on campus.  This class was taught in a 5-week time frame, so the pace was intense, and the teachers and I never met face-to-face. Teachers were required to spend 20 hours of tutoring a small group of students. Instead of coming to a clinic, teachers could select the small group from their own classrooms, from that of another teacher, or volunteer in a classroom if they were not currently teaching. All of these scenarios played out during the course.

Teachers turned in weekly lesson plans twice; on the Sunday before the school week and Friday or Saturday, after the school week, they re-submitted the same lesson plans with detailed reflections on their teaching. We met twice on Elluminate for class sessions to talk about readings. Students participated in discussion boards on pertinent topics and did a WebQuest (https://literacybeat.com/category/webquest/) on the CCSS.

But the centerpiece of the clinical course was the use of a smart phone application, known as Qik (http://www.qik.com) which teachers used to record 5-10 minutes of a lesson three times over the five-week course.

About Qik

Virtually every smart phone is supported by Qik and there is a published list of those on the Qik website. You can pay for Qik, but the free application allows you to store 25 videos, more than enough for our purposes. You can also use Qik on your iPad.

Teachers could point the phone and press record and make a video immediately. The videos are directly uploaded and  stored on the teacher’s Qik site, which is totally private, and teachers can invite others to view their videos in several ways—for example, videos could be shared via Facebook, Youtube, or Twitter. For this class, teachers extended an email invitation to me so that I could view their work.

Prior to the start of class, I sent a Qik introduction of the course to all the teachers enrolled before class began.

To view my introduction to the course, go to: http://qik.com/video/50810210

Students found it easy to make the videotapes, but capturing the lessons was more difficult unless they had someone to help them. For example, one teacher propped her smart phone on the table, but the student got enthusiastic, knocking against the table and the phone fell over. After two times, the teacher asked the student to be careful. Another teacher held the phone herself and only videotaped her students.

Other teachers asked students to hold the camera on the action and the example you will see enlisted the help of a fellow teacher.

Once students learned how to share the videos by email invitation (see the double arrow at the top of the figure below), I could access them and provide a response.


 Interestingly, the responses I provided were much appreciated by the teachers, who loved the personal nature of audio (MP3) files. Previously, in this blog I have shared teacher candidate podcasts (https://literacybeat.com/2011/04/15/podcasting-to-teach-content-literacy) and in another project special needs students made audio retellings of a folktale in a PowerPoint presentation (Castek, Dalton, & Grisham, 2012), so I had some experience with making MP3 files.

But none of us likes what we look like on video or sound like on audio. I am no exception! So I gathered up my courage and decided to give audio responses to teachers’ lesson videos.

Being a Mac user to the core, I employed Garage Band to record my responses. First, I watched the teachers’ videos and made notes. I compared what I had seen in the video to the written lessons the teachers had posted in advance to Blackboard. Then, I recorded the responses, which varied from about 90 seconds to almost 4 minutes over the three videos submitted by all 13 of the teachers for a total of 49 responses overall.

Once the recording was made in Garage Band, I “shared” it with iTunes, converting to the MP3 file format. Then I downloaded the MP3 files and attached each one to an email to the teacher.

Based on questionnaires administered after the course, everyone LOVED the responses.  They felt a connection. I believe that teachers need validation for the work they do. Teachers can also accept criticism, as long as it is couched in positive terms. Writing can be very impersonal, but the voice can convey support.

In response to the question about the MP3 responses, here are what two teachers wrote:

“Again, something new to me in this class, but incredibly useful. The audio feedback was terrific. It made me feel like I was in an in-person class. Very personal. I think every online class should have this.”

“I enjoyed being able to gain almost immediate feedback from the videotaped lessons. It was nice to know that someone with experience could see areas of concern and help me shape my teaching more effectively.”

An Example of the Lesson and the Response

Written permissions were obtained for students to be videotaped and the teacher whose videos you see here granted permission for me to share her video.  The second file is the audio response to this lesson.



Concluding Thoughts

The growing number of online and/or hybrid classes is remarkable. Technology changes were referred to as “deictic” by Don Leu back in 2000 and deictic means a veritable onslaught of transformations that are irresistible and ever-evolving.  Combined with an economic downturn and increasingly diminished higher education budgets, administrators may increasingly turn to the more economic option of online classes. It is popular right now to regard online classes as somehow “less” than brick and mortar classes, and in some cases this may be true.

But online classes offer access to many graduate students who cannot attend a brick and mortar university. In another course that I teach at a different university, a middle school teacher from Happy Camp, California (way up in rural Klamath County), was able to improve his practice by learning in an Innovative Masters Degree program that afforded him new ideas, new strategies, new collaborations with colleagues, and new ways to serve his mostly Native American population of students.

In addition, we have new technologies (such as Blackboard, Elluminate, smart phones, and applications of all kinds) that permit us to make the online courses more personal and more relevant to the students we teach. We can give of ourselves as teachers and mentors through these new technologies. Our students can benefit from what we do online, as shown by the reactions of teachers to the LEE230 class.

I am greatly interested in what others think about online learning and hope you will read this blog and share your own experiences!

Webquest for CCSS

By Dana L. Grisham

Last year in this blog, I wrote about about TextProject (http://textproject.org) , a not-for-profit organization that supports struggling readers with appropriate texts see the earlier blog on TextProject at https://literacybeat.wordpress.com/2011/10/14/exploring-the-textproject-website-and-text-complexity/.  The site changes constantly, as new materials are added. Below is a screenshot of the current homepage.

The project is headed by Elfrieda Hiebert (Freddy to all) and recently, I have been working with Freddy to provide modules on text complexity to teachers and teacher educators for professional development.  The good news is that the modules (5 of them) will be posted to the TextProject website this summer; the better news is that everything will be FREE to interested parties. You will be able to download the modules and all materials that go with them at no cost. We recently made a research poster presentation on the modules at IRA. The poster shows you the content and instructional sequence of the modules and provides an overview of the final (5th module). Our poster is displayed below.

Speaking for myself, after three decades of teaching reading, I thought I understood text complexity. I found out that I had a somewhat superficial understanding when I began working with Freddy. So this blog post concerns several important understandings that relate to text complexity and the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

One of the instructional tools that we decided NOT to use is a WebQuest, but for teachers and teacher educators, I think the WebQuest works well to acquaint educators with the CCSS and with some elements of text complexity. I decided to share the WebQuest with you here and you are invited to use it in whatever way you think appropriate. I have field-tested it with several groups of teacher candidates and most of them expressed appreciation for the “just in time” learning.

Critical evaluation of information is an important skill in a print-based or electronic environment. A WebQuest is an inquiry-oriented lesson format in which most or all the information that learners work with comes from the web (Internet). The WebQuest model was developed by Dr. Bernie Dodge at San Diego State University in February, 1995. (You can find out more about WebQuests by visiting the official website at http://webquest.org/index.php). http://webquest.org/index.phpThere are now a number of websites where WebQuests on various subjects may be downloaded and used.

For the Webquest on CCSS, if you are a teacher educator, I recommend dividing it into three parts for use during class sessions or completing it over several sessions of the class. If teacher educators have access to computer labs on campus, the students may work there during class (supervised by the instructor) and may work in pairs or small groups to complete the assignment. It may also be used in this way for professional development for practicing teachers.  Teachers who may be interested may adapt, skip parts that are not of interest to them, or focus on single questions they might want answered.

In order to understand the CCSS, you might also want to spend some time acquainting yourself and/or teacher candidates with the CCSS. One resource is a PowerPoint (in pdf format) presentation that is available through California State University’s Center for the Advancement of Reading (CAR) and available as a free downloadable pdf at http://www.calstate.edu/car/publications/. There are many helpful publications on the website in addition to the CCSS PowerPoint.

In closing, we know that CCSS will generate new assessments for our students, that state standards and curriculum frameworks will change, and that our students will be expected to read more non-fiction more closely and learn to read and write in emphasized genres. How can we use our professional judgment and available technological tools to aid this process? And how can we incorporate these standards into our teaching in a caring and thoughtful way?

The Webquest:

To complete this task, you must carefully read and respond to the questions. Please remember that this task is designed to assist you to become familiar with the Common Core State Standards and your specific content area standards to assist you in your professional life.

Learning Outcomes

  1. What are the Common Core State Standards (CCSS)?
  2. How are the CCSS to be implemented?
  3. What is text complexity and why is it important?
  4. What is the difference between narrative and expository text? How does this affect our teaching of reading?

Websites for this Lesson

The following websites will be used in this WebQuest.

CCSS Website: http://www.corestandards.org/

Lexile Website: http://www.lexile.com/

TextProject Website: http://textproject.org/teachers/the-text-complexity-multi-index/

Activities: CCSS

  1. What is the stated mission (purpose) for the Common Core State Standards? What motivated the NGA and CSSO to generate these standards?
  2. How many states have adopted the CCSS? Has your state adopted the CCSS? If so, what is the URL (web address) for the CCSS in your state?
  3. What is the recommended percentage of literary and informational text at 4th, 8th, and 12th grade levels and what do you think this means for you as a teacher of reading?
  4. How are the English/Language Arts standards for K-5 and for Grades 6-12 organized differently? Why do you think this is?
  5. How do the CCSS standards define text complexity?
  6. Choose a grade level for K-5 (pages 11/12) and read the components; compare to the next or previous grade level components. In the Text Complexity section, what do you think is meant by the “text complexity band?”
  7. Look at page 31, Standard 10. What are the three factors for “measuring” text complexity?
  8. What constitutes “informational text?”
  9. Go to Reading Standards for Informational text, page 39/40. Choose one grade and read the components; compare to the next or previous grade level components.  What are the differences in text complexity in the two grades?
  10. Choose a grade level for literacy in History/Social Science (p. 61) paying attention to how Language Arts is integrated in Social Science. What does this mean to you as a teacher?  Why would this be important to a K-5 teacher?
  11. For the E/LA standards, there are three Appendices (these are NOT in the document you downloaded). Go back to the website and locate these appendices.  Download Appendix A. What is the subject of this appendix?
  12. What was the message of the ACT, 2010 report called Reading Between the Lines?  What is meant by “complex text” and what definition is given of this term in the literature review?
  13. What does Appendix A have to say about scaffolding reading instruction?
  14. What is the three-part model for text complexity (p.4)? Which one is measurable by computer?  What measure is used?
  15. Read the Key Considerations in Implementing Text Complexity (p. 8). What do we know about the tools for measuring text complexity?
  16. Looking at Figure 3, (p. 8), what can we say about Lexile Range changes?
  17. Why do the authors recommend that teachers decrease scaffolding and increase independence?
  18. Download Appendix B and read about the process of text selection for exemplars. Talk about your own definition of complexity, quality, and range. Why are these exemplars important? The authors of the CCSS make some caveats about the exemplars. What are they?
  19. Read the FAQs about the CCSS (on the website). What questions still remain for you?

Activities: Lexile

  1. Go to the Lexile website. Under “What is a Lexile?” read the text and considering scaffolding and independence, respond to the following statement:

“When a Lexile text measure matches a Lexile reader measure, this is called a “targeted” reading experience. The reader will likely encounter some level of difficulty with the text, but not enough to get frustrated. This is the best way to grow as a reader—with text that’s not too hard but not too easy.”

  1. View the video at http://www.lexile.com/about-lexile/lexile-video/. Should teachers allow students to read above or below their Lexile level? Why or why not?
  2. What should you say when someone tells you:  “Research says…”
  3. Books that have prefixes (IG, NC, etc.) before the Lexile level (called Lexile Codes) have meanings for teachers, librarians, and children. Focus on one of these Lexile Codes and tell why this is important.
  4. What is the relationship of MetaMetrics and the CCSS?
  5.  What questions still remain for you?In closing, we know that CCSS will generate new assessments for our students, that state standards and curriculum frameworks will change, and that our students will be expected to read more non-fiction more closely and learn to read and write in new genres. How can we use technological tools to aid this process? And how can we incorporate these standards into our teaching in a caring and thoughtful way?

Personal Learning Environments: Making Sense and Keeping it All Under Control


I’d like to thank our guest poster, Thomas DeVere Wolsey, for a great blog on Personal Learning Environments! Dana

Guest post by Thomas DeVere Wolsey

Meet Dionisio

What? Another digital technology I need to learn? What is a personal learning environment, anyway? To answer that, I want you to meet Dionisio.  He is one very interesting 10th-grade student, much like those you know in 10th grade, 5th grade, and many other grade levels.  There are sides to Dionisio that are not readily apparent at school most of the time.  He plays guitar and records music using a Korg synthesizer app for his iPhone® and iPad® which he then shares with others at SoundCloud. SoundCloud is his favorite sharing site for music because he can sell digital recordings of his work there, and it is always rewarding when someone buys his songs.  Sometimes he posts his work to his YouTube channel, as well.   When he posts work on SoundCloud or YouTube, he often Tweets the URL to his followers and his Facebook friends see the new link, too.

Dionisio really likes music and sharing his creations with friends, but what most people don’t know about him is his interest in the United States Civil War. His interest in the lives of soldiers far exceeds anything his state social studies standards requires.  He subscribes to many Civil War blogs using an RSS feed to keep him updated on new posts.  In his social bookmarking account on Delicious, he has bookmarked almost every website for important Civil War battlefields in order to make them easily accessible.

In addition to his interests that sometimes match school curriculum and sometimes do not, he also maintains a Diigo page and several of his teachers use Edmodo.  A few of his friends use EverNote to keep track of readings assigned by teachers, collaborate with Dionisio on class projects, and catalog information they found on their own. Some of his school presentations appear on Prezi, and some he posted on YouTube.  Many of his teachers ask him to submit work on the school’s course management system (such as Moodle or eCollege).  PowerPoint® projects he created with others in his classes are often uploaded to Box.net as they collaborate over the Internet to be ready for class.  Dionisio kept most of the tools and websites bookmarked on his laptop, and then he met a teacher who changed his thinking.

View the YouTube video on the 21st Century student to understand a little more about Dionisio and students like him.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XwM4ieFOotA&feature=youtu.be

Dionisio’s Personal Learning Environment

You might wonder how Dionisio keeps track of all those online sources. At first, it wasn’t easy; Dionisio found it all a bit overwhelming.  However, one of Dionisio’s teachers recognized that literacy in the 21st century involved more than just reading paper pages and answering questions.  Much more is involved in new literacies (Leu, Kinzer, Coiro & Cammack, 2004). Organizing, synthesizing and constructing meaning from online and traditional resources are critical cognitive skills made even more important as students navigate the digital environments they choose and in which they are asked to participate.  Dionisio’s teacher suggested to him and to his classmates that one way to make sense of all the information they create and that they gather is through the online tool, Symbaloo.  With Symbaloo, Dionisio created a personal learning network with a matrix that included the blogs he followed, the websites he found useful, the classroom management systems his teachers used, and many social and collaborative networking environments.

Because Dionisio realized that some of his learning was associated with specific classes at school, some was his own learning that overlapped with school sometimes, and some was related to personal interests that rarely overlapped with school, he set up his personal learning environment to keep some elements private, some shared with his network outside of school, and some shared with his teachers and classmates.  These networks often overlapped, but Dionisio decided which elements to share and with whom.

In the YouTube video, notice how a 7th-grade student created a personal learning environment in Symbaloo  http://youtu.be/YEls3tq5wIY

Welcome to my PLE

How do Students Organize the Personal Learning Environment?

Wouldn’t it be nice to just tell students how their personal learning environments (PLE) should be organized? Include elements A, B, and C, and you’re done! But that would not be very personal, would it? Personal learning environments are organized in a way that makes sense to the person doing the organizing.  Michelle Martin (2007), an adult blogger, organized hers according to the information she gathered, the information she processed, and the actions she takes based on her learning.  Two things are worth noting in her approach: 1. She changed the tools she used to organize her PLE after awhile, and 2. She included traditional paper-based text in her PLE.

The EdTechPost wiki includes many diagrams that illustrate how personal learning environments might be constructed. On the wiki, the diagrams are organized toward orientation: tools, use/action/ people, and hybrid/action/other.  Every personal learning environment is different because each reflects the way the person who created the environment perceives and organizes their learning and the worlds it represents.  Dionisio quickly realized that Symbaloo was a great tool, but he needed multiple entry points for his PLE representing the way he organized his own learning.  He created an About.me account to provide a more public access point for his music and interests in the Civil War.  The About.me page did include links to his Symbaloo and other pages, but some were password protected, and not all his school pages were linked to his About.me page.

What are the Elements of a Personal Learning Environment?
The Learning Technologies Centre at the University of Manitoba includes several elements of a personal learning environment. These include production tools, collaboration tools, aggregation tools, and so on (for the full list, click the link).  EDUCAUSE (2009) points out that a key attribute of the personal learning network is that it is learner centered.  Attwell (2006, pdf file) further explores the learner-centered feature of the personal learning environment. He suggests that they are characteristics of life-long learners and that they are informal in nature.  Another key element is the aspect of community (e.g., Grisham & Wolsey, 2006), the idea that much of our creative and intellectual work is part of a larger group, as well.

Why do Personal Learning Environments Matter?

A characteristic of humans is that they try to make sense of the contexts of their lives. The tools they use and the purposes they establish for learning may be the defining features of learning in the coming decades.  How will you encourage your students to create and maintain personal learning environments the promote mastery of appropriate standards and foster lifelong learning as well? Dionisio relied on his teacher to help him learn to organize and make sense of the many online tools he used. Like him, many K-12 students and adults create environments that serve their own purposes that include formal and informal contexts.

At the beginning of the post, we asked what a personal learning environment is.  Simply, it is the approach that users take to individual aggregate content, organize it, and lend context to it. Content may be created by the owner of the PLE or gathered from the Internet and other sources. PLEs are informal mashups, elements of which may be shared with others in the user’s network and learning communities. Finally, educators sometimes provide a basic framework or tool that students might use to start building their own PLEs.

More to Learn:

To continue your own exploration of personal learning environments, visit http://delicious.com/stacks/view/Qeck9Y  Also, read more about the related concepts of personal learning networks (which overlap with personal learning environments), social bookmarking, and content curation.


Attwell, G. (2006). Personal learning environments—The future of elearning? eLearning Papers. Retrieved from http://www.elearningeuropa.info/files/media/media11561.pdf

EDUCAUSE. (2009). Seven things you should know about personal learning environments. Retrieved from http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI7049.pdf

Grisham, D. L. & Wolsey, T.D. (2006). Recentering the middle school classroom as a vibrant learning community: Students, literacy, and technology intersect. Journal of Adult and Adolescent Literacy, 49(8), 648-660. DOI: 10.1598/JAAL.49.8.2

Leu, D.J., Jr., Kinzer, C.K., Coiro, J., & Cammack, D.W. (2004). Toward a theory of new literacies emerging from the Internet and other information and communication technologies. In R.B. Ruddell, & N. Unrau (Eds.), Theoretical models and processes of reading (5th ed., pp. 1570-1613). Newark, DE: International Reading Association. Available: http://www.readingonline.org/newliteracies/lit_index.asp?HREF=leu/

Martin, M. (2007, April 11). My personal learning envirornment [blog post]. The bamboo project. Retrieved from http://michelemartin.typepad.com/thebambooprojectblog/2007/04/my_personal_lea.html

Exploring the TextProject Website and Text Complexity

“A picture is worth a thousand words.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_picture_is_worth_a_thousand_words

“The learning from complex texts in content areas and literature needs to be the centerpiece of schooling in the 21st century” (Hiebert, in press).

For the past twenty years, I have been working at the university level with preservice teacher candidates and practicing teachers in master’s and doctoral level courses. My field—and my passion—is literacy learning and there is nothing more exciting to me than the thrill experienced by teachers learning something new professionally that they may use to teach their K-12 students to enhance literacy learning. Part of that joy is the discovery of new resources to share with my students and my colleagues.

For each of us there is an amazing “aha!” in learning that just because something is published doesn’t mean it is “the truth.” Many experience it earlier than I did—in grad school! It is sometimes most confusing to locate websites with reliable and accurate information and resources for teachers. How does one know that what is out there on the Web is truthful? Eagleton and Dobler (2006) provided us with the QUEST model to use with K-12 students to teach them how to critically evaluate websites. But what about the rest of us? How do we know when we find a truly useful and genuinely valuable website?

Recently, I have become involved with Freddy Hiebert and Charles Fisher’s TextProject (www.textproject.org). This is a website I have spent a great deal of time exploring and one I am willing to recommend to my colleagues. The TextProject focus is on increasing literacy levels of beginning and struggling readers through access to the “best possible texts.” TextProject is a non-profit organization that provides three types of resources for educators: TExT Products, Teacher Support, and Research. There is so much on this website that I’m breaking it down into three components, which are listed below. You can spend quite a bit of time exploring each of these. For me, as a literacy teacher educator and researcher, I loved the research library. I have recommended this website to my teacher candidates and master’s level students, particularly the TextProject topics. I believe they get a new viewpoint on reading fluency!

             TExT  Products

TextProject creates reading programs and products based on the TExT model of text complexity. (Click the link and read about the linguistic and cognitive demands of texts for beginning readers.)

1.  SummerReads, This is TextProject’s free summer reading program that helps at-risk readers avoid the summer slump.

2. Talking Points for Kids This is a free program designed to increase meaningful discussion among students.

3. BeginningReads This program is designed to connect children’s knowledge of oral language with written language.

4. QuickReads and ZipZoom are two commerical reading programs based on the TExT model. (In other words, you have to pay for these!) ZipZoom, in particular, is a research based reading program for English Learners created by Hiebert and Fisher.

Teacher Support

TextProject helps teachers improve students’ reading achievement with materials and lessons.

1. E4: Exceptional Expressions for Everyday Events This is a set of 32 free vocabulary lessons that builds on words that students hear every day in their classrooms.

2. QuickReads: Word Pictures Here is a set of free lessons that develop critical words in content areas, especially helpful to English Learners.

3. Benchmark Texts is a free list of tradebooks that support grades 2-3 students’ capacity for complex text to meet CCSS.

4. WordZones for 5,586 Most Frequent Words is a free word list focused on vocabulary needed to be successful in reading.



TextProject publishes reviews and reports of research on pressing issues in current reading education.

1. Reading Research Reports Here you will find summaries of original studies. The latest report looks at the measurement of text complexity under the guidelines of the CCSS.

2. TextProject Library offers a decade’s worth of articles, presentation slides, and more from TextProject founder Elfrieda H. Hiebert and colleagues.

3. TextProject Topics are clusters of resources on topics such as:

• Common Core State Standards

• Texts for Early Reading

• Vocabulary: Morphology

• Vocabulary: Informational and Narrative Texts

• Reading More / Silent Reading

• Fluency and Automaticity

In the time I’ve spend exploring the site, I’ve also come to value the TextProject as a key to learning about the Common Core State Standards mentioned above and the role that text complexity plays in both reading fluency and reading comprehension. On the site, you can download Karen Wixon’s article on “what” the CCSS are and you can also download Freddy Hiebert’s editorial (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/are-21st-century-5-year-olds-cognitively-ready-to-read/2011/08/11/gIQAV3Vm9I_blog.html) on problems that may be associated with their implementation, particularly at the early grades.

Another aspect of TextProject that fascinates me is the model of text complexity that Hiebert and Fisher explore. TExT stands for “Text Elements by Task.”

For linguistic content, the TExT model calculates the percentage of words in a text that conform to a specific curriculum, which is expressed as a combination of phonetically-regular words and high-frequency words.

Hiebert and Fisher (2003) also state that another type of words is essential linguistic knowledge for children’s word recognition—words that are easy to image and remember because of children’s knowledge of, and interest in, the underlying concept,

For cognitive load, the TExT model examines the introduction of new words in a text, as well as the repetition of new words. New words are those that fall outside of the specified curriculum. The TExT model scores a text to be more difficult if it contains a large percentage of new words, but repetition of those words reduces the overall difficulty. Informational texts in science and social studies are used to develop concepts. Multisyllabic words are repeated to assist struggling readers.

There are approximately 9,000 words (4,000 root words and their simple endings) that account for about 90% of the total words in most texts. If young readers become fluent with this core vocabulary, they can better climb the “staircase” of text complexity set forth by the CCSS.

TextProject also provides YouTube videos. For example, Dr. Elfrieda (Freddy) Hiebert describes the QuickReads Text Model (http://quickreads.org/video/in-depth-overview) in a 13-minute film. Access the film and see how TExT measure text difficulty through linguistic content and cognitive load.

A shorter (4 minute) version can be seen at http://quickreads.org/advantage/quickreads-text-model.

To understand the QuickReads program, another 7-minute video (http://quickreads.org/video/text-fluency-and-quickreads) explains the process of constructing the text for QuickReads and cites initial research findings for its efficacy.

Now, if you are wondering about the adage that, “a picture is worth a thousand words” that I placed at the beginning of the blog, I will refer you to the “high meaning, concreteness and imagery value” of words we teach our youngest readers. Words that are highly “imagable” and concrete are always the most meaningful to young students, therefore teachers need to focus on teaching vocabulary and word recognition of such words.  Download the pdf of From Seeds to Plants on the Text Project Website.

Finally, here is an excerpt from SummerReads for third grade students. Think about text complexity and the linguistic and cognitive demands of text as you read this.


Bats and Balls

There are many games that use bats and balls. In the United States, playing ball usually means playing baseball. That’s because baseball was first played in the United States. Two other games, T-ball and softball, are very much like baseball. All three games are usually played in summer or early fall. That’s because they all need a big, flat, and open space for hitting balls and running around bases. This is hard to do in the snow!

Baseball is a team game, so you need to have two teams to play a proper game. You may not have enough people to make two teams. But, if you have a friend, a bat, and a ball, you can learn to pitch, hit, and catch the ball even in your yard or a small park.

In closing this blog, I’m hoping that teachers begin to see the complexity in text complexity, because rumbling down upon us from on high is a juggernaut of assessment being developed to measure children’s mastery of the CCSS. There are currently two assessments being developed in two different parts of the country, but they will be in place by 2014 or 2015. We need to get a handle on what this means for all of us.

Secondary Teacher Candidates’ ePosters

As you know, I have embraced the possibilities of Web 2.0 technologies even though I am what is known as a “digital dinosaur” according to my age (*). I used to make fun of my advancing years by joking with students that I was in the classroom when “dinosaurs roamed the earth.”  My students, most of them, anyway, are in their 20s and 30s. They sort of laugh nervously when I make this joke. I’m beginning to believe they might actually visualize me roaming the plains with velociraptors, so I’ve quit making this joke. This decision was further cemented when I saw the following YouTube segment.

In Literacy Beat, we have talked before about how teaching content literacy to secondary teacher candidates is a challenge for literacy researchers and educators, as students come from all disciplines to take this one required literacy methods course. This summer I taught two sections of this class for the California State University, and, as usual, I wanted to try something new with—and for—my students. In prior years, I asked students to make audio podcasts (see https://literacybeat.wordpress.com/2011/04/15/podcasting-to-teach-content-literacy/ ).

As I am also insatiably curious, I like to study my own teaching—after all, I need to walk the talk, too—so I’ve done a little research on what this summer’s secondary teacher candidates felt about technology and teaching. I’m also curious about what technologies they learn from their teacher preparation program, other than in their stand-alone educational technology course. For now, let me share with you some of the ePosters they created.

This summer almost 50 secondary teacher candidates in my classes wrote a lesson plan using a literacy strategy relevant to their content, but they also made an e-Poster (they could choose either a Glog or a Prezi) that supplemented, extended, or became a part of their lesson plan.  First, I made a Glog and a Prezi to show students. I figured if I can do it, anyone can. The Glog was pretty easy, but the Prezi took a little longer. I showed both to the students and gave them their choice of which to use. Prezi on Martina (http://prezi.com/qf7guf6milsq/martina/ and Glog on the WORD conference 2011 (http://dgrisham.glogster.com/site2011/)

Every single student was able to do the ePoster, mostly without complaint! Then came the good part! They posted their lesson plans and e-Posters to Blackboard and responded to each other’s work.  As usual, I am impressed by the people who choose to go into teaching! No, they didn’t all like the assignment, but many did and they were also able to recognize the possibilities for their grades 6-12 students to use media creatively!

I’d like to share their work with other teachers and they’ve all given me permission to do so.

Best of the Prezis and Glogs by content area:

Prezis were in the minority as many students found the Glogster site easier to use (13 total of 47 ePosters). The Glogs are much easier to do, but sometimes harder to access through linking. Here are several that you might find interesting.


Allen Amusin


Katyana Sacro



Ronny Smith


Angelica Vila



Joshua Stroup


Chuck Faber


Eric Kemper


Social Studies:

Rich Seeber



Lauren Shahroody


Physical Education:

Brandon Allen


Thoughts on ePosters

Many students commented on the relevance of using technology in their content areas. They analyzed each other’s work and a number of them praised their colleagues for the ePosters they had done.  Here is a brief example:

“The video you attached to your glog, alongside the differentiation between the first and third person narrative, is truly an efficient way of supplementing classroom learning in regards to this specific lesson plan. I will be sure to look further into this “Zoom” book you have mentioned and utilized so effortlessly in an academic manner. In regards to using this book in correspondence with the California English/Language Arts Standards, “Zoom” seems to be extremely intriguing, very useful, and incredibly original. Great lesson plan!”

However, some students did not see the relevance very clearly. I’d like to leave you with an honest comment that I found both poignant and hopeful. Poignant because it still appears very teacher centered. No matter how often or intensely we discussed the necessity of focusing on their students’ learning more than on themselves as teachers, it was difficult for some students to “decenter themselves.” Perhaps it is because they lack experience, but I fear it is because some teacher candidates did not get the basic message that teaching (no matter how skilled) does not equal learning. The hopeful part of this message is that the student is still thinking about the topic.

“But my point is that I am not sure if you can really use much technology in your classroom. Maybe you could use it more by having kids look at stuff online when they are home. So using a prezi or glog might still work, but more as a study aid or a way to present things for the students to look over outside of class. I think this lack of a need for technology might be a good thing. I think many teachers use it as a way to trick students into being interested in boring lessons, except technology for students isn’t some fascinating new thing, they use it everyday, so to really interest students the lesson itself needs to be interesting. This is more of something for me to think about – only using technology when it is legitimately useful and adds to the lesson, not just using it because it is there.”

(*) He who shall not be named! First, I’m a digital immigrant, which is bad enough; now I’m a digital dinosaur. You all know who I’m talking about.

Tweets on Cyberbullying

By Dana Grisham

Ms. Vanessa Cristobal is a high school English teacher at the California School for the Deaf. Ms. Cristobal is an innovative teacher who enjoys using technology to teach her profoundly Deaf and hard-of-hearing students using Web 2.0 Resources. Deaf students are avid users of technology, and indeed technologies such as closed captioning, Instant Messaging, and other assistive technologies are a boon to this student population.

In her honors class this year, Ms. Cristobal, did a unit on cyberbullying that taught her students some of the most important lessons about the uses—and possible misuses—of technology.

Our blog, Literacy Beat, focuses on vocabulary learning and Web 2.0 tools and the issue of cyberbullying is an important topic–and one that teachers must consider. There are significant vocabulary terms that must be learned by students and Ms. Cristobal is very aware of that.

She begins her unit with a PowerPoint on how to do Twitter (Tweeting). Then students begin to read resources on the topic and to discuss these in class. Finally, they “Tweet” about the problem using some of the new language they have learned and combining that with artistic composition language. Wolsey and Grisham (in press) have compared “tweeting” with Haiku. Both have space constraints, which make them brief, but when done well, they have quite an impact on the reader.

See this example of a Haiku (all tweets and haikus reproduced here with permission).

A yellow pencil

Left beneath a schoolhouse tree

Autumn leaves gather.

T.D. Wolsey (67 characters)

Compare with a “tweet.”

140 characters is the space limitation for a tweet and it is quite short, like Haiku, so thought must reflect the essence of communication.

D.L. Grisham (139 characters)

Ms. Cristobal used a number of resources on her unit on cyberbullying. Note below there are ten useful websites compiled on this topic. The culminating activity of Ms. Cristobal’s unit was the tweeting the students did in response to what they had learned. These were posted to Twitter, but kept private. All identifying information has been eliminated from these student examples.

Five Student Examples (edited a little for grammar):

It really hurts to be hated and makes me so angry, but I can’t respond that way. Instead, I must report. I would never do this to another! (138)

A sad boy cringes from his former friends in such pain that he might suicide. It is betrayal, but don’t despair. Tell someone and escape. (137)

You must not believe the lies and the hate, but trust this will pass. Report the abuse and you will then be free. Be strong. Don’t despair. (139)

Cyberbullying is a crime. Don’t commit it. If you are a victim, report it. It is not your fault. Sometimes so called friends make mistakes. (139)

In the end, you will survive, but it can make you angry and sad. Cyberbullying is a crime, so don’t let yourself believe the bad messages. (138)

Ms. Cristobal’s honor students did an excellent job with the form and the language and cyberbullying is a topic that all students, particularly middle and high school students need to review, much like safely crossing the street for younger students.

Ten Resources on Cyberbullying

Wikipedia definitions: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyber-bullying  Includes definitions, original research, other publications on cyber-bullying.

Cyberbullying Resource Center: http://www.cyberbullying.us/aboutus.php Two researchers, Justin Patchin and Sameer Hinduja, authors of Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard (2009), sponsor a website dedicated to “providing up-to-date information about the nature, extent, causes, and consequences of cyberbullying among adolescents.”

National Crime Prevention Panel: http://www.ncpc.org/cyberbullying Provides a Q & A and other resources, including reporting options.

KidsHealth: http://kidshealth.org/parent/positive/talk/cyberbullying.html  In the parents section, text-to-speech provides audio reading of information about cyberbullying in both English and Spanish.

BrainPop: http://www.brainpop.com/health/personalhealth/cyberbullying/  Provides a free kid-centered “cartoon” on cyberbullying. Other free programs include Internet safety, instructions for email and IMing, and cyberetiquette.

WiredKids, Inc. http://www.stopcyberbullying.org/  What it is, how to recognize cyberbullying, what action to take and how to join a campaign.

Cyberbullying Report: http://cyberbullyingreport.com/  Contains a process for reporting cyberbullies.

NetSmartz (NS) Teens: http://www.nsteens.org/Videos/Cyberbullying Video that explores cyberbullying through student interviews and cartoon.

YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fNumIY9D7uY  The experiences of a teen boy who was cyberbullied and grew desperate, but how the cyberbulling was stopped. (There are a number of other films on YouTube on this topic that I have not reviewed.)

Stop Bullying: http://www.stopbullying.gov/about_us/index.htmlStopBullying.gov provides information from various government agencies on how kids, teens, young adults, parents, educators and others in the community can prevent or stop bullying.

Images for Cyberbullying:

Google Images for cyberbullying: http://www.google.com/search?q=cyberbullying&hl=en&biw=1881&bih=949&prmd=ivnsb&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=5cglTrv8EY6WsgP8yYnpCA&sqi=2&ved=0CEkQsAQ

May be used for reports or as teacher resources, although some are copyrighted.


Wolsey, T.D. and Grisham, D.L. (in press). Teaching writing with technology. New York: Guilford.

Sample PowerPoint Slides for Tweeting in Ms. Cristobal’s class (with thanks!)

Classroom Websites for Literacy

District and school websites are ubiquitous, particularly in view of the reporting requirements on student achievement. For example, in California, a law was passed that dictates the type and quality of achievement data that must be reported and most districts report this via website. This is nice, but how are districts, schools, and teachers using websites for instructional purposes? In this post I will present two websites in some detail, but at the end of this post is a list of several websites that may be used as resources for your planning.

Mrs. Renz, Redmond, Oregon

Mrs. Heather Renz of Redmond, Oregon, has had a website since 2000. If you link to http://www.mrsrenz.net/ you will arrive at the home page for her fourth-grade classroom. On this home page, you can see choices of links for students, parents, and other teachers. You can also meet Mrs. Renz and find out about her 31 years of teaching, a little about her life, and her interest in establishing a website. There is also a list of awards that Mrs. Renz has won for her teaching, including Disney Teacher of the Year honoree for 2006 and Microsoft Innovator 2005.

Under links for students, one finds math website links, past classroom projects, pen pal project, class creed and a host of other topics to link to. On the “Stars Page” students can access both literacy and math puzzles and games.  Under “Alex and Pearl’s Page” students can find science, math, and reading and listening sites to visit. Example of a science link:  Trees are Terrific—a Movie (it is really an audio-enhanced slide show, which is new to the site. Travel with Pierre is a series produced by University of Illinois Extension, from their Urban Programs Resource Network.

Under the parents’ link, one finds information for parents, the classroom schedule, each child’s classroom projects and photos, tonight’s homework, field trip schedules, and other information useful to parents. There’s also links to the teaching team and awards Mrs. Renz has won. There is also an Open House handout and slides from previous Open Houses. There’s a place to contact Mrs. Renz.

Site for Teachers

Mrs. Renz' Site for Teachers


Under the teachers’ link, there are a number of resources that teachers will find useful. With Mrs. Renz’ permission, I’ve made a screen shot of the teacher’s page for our information. She is incredibly generous in sharing her resources!

Mr. Coley, Murrieta, California

As we have seen, one of the uses of a class website is to share with parents what students are learning about. Instead of the teacher updating the website, students can be regular contributors, by asking students to write about what they are learning on a daily basis. Mr. Coley’s fifth-grade website exemplifies this (http://www.mrcoley.com/blog/index.htm).

Mr. Coley Homepage

Mr. Coley’s website differs from Mrs. Renz’ website in more than just the organization. There are many departments in the website and many of these feature student postings (http://www.mrcoley.com/blog/index.htm). Each day, a student in Mr. Coley’s classroom is assigned to be a “Roving Reporter” who writes a piece about what takes place in class on that day.  The student may use a computer at home or one of the word processors in the classroom. Students word process the article and turn them in to Mr. Coley in several ways (email, CD, etc.).  Students thus get an opportunity to write using technology and the teacher uploads them to The Daily Blog.

With Mr. Coley’s permission we include examples of the blog for May 13, 2011.

Friday, May 13, 2011
Reported by Ethan #6

Hi, I’m Ethan #6, and I’m going to be the Roving Reporter for today.  I got to school at 8:00 in the morning, and I played basketball with my friends until the bell rang.  I ran to class, got in line, and waited for the nice, warm day to start.

First we had Friday Flag.  During Friday Flag, Mrs. Picchiottino, our assistant principal, and Ms. Groff, our librarian, announced Birthday Book Club, the Shark Bite winners, and the Spirit Count winners.  Mr. Fanning usually does a song, but he didn’t do one today.  For the lower grades, Mrs. Romano won Spirit Count, and for the upper grades, Mr. Glendinning won again.

To really start the day we did Fitnessgram testing. In Fitnessgram testing you have to do push-ups, sit-ups, the sit and reach, and the trunk lift.  My partner was Myles, and he went to do push-ups first, I had to count them.  He did 25 push-ups, and over a 12-inch trunk lift.  I was next, and I did 23 push-ups and I also went over 12 inches on the trunk lift.  Myles did 48 sit-ups, and a 10-11-inch sit and reach.  I did 50 sit-ups, and a 13-14-inch sit and reach.  We both did really well on the test.

To relax, we then watched Mr. Henning and his students do the rocket launches.  Each person in that class made a rocket the size of a liter soda bottle.  They put water in it, and then they pumped air into the bottle.  They count down until the student hits the trigger and launches it high into the sky.  Jill’s went the highest.  Drake got second, and Claire got third.

Next it was time for Lit. Circles.  The blue group, Conner, Ryan, Marcus, and I, is reading CloserCloser is the fourth book in the long Tunnels series written by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams.  We have two meetings left, so we decided to read the rest of the book.

It was then time for recess.  I ate a pack of fruit snacks when I was heading off to go play basketball with my friends.  I was on Myles’s team.  It was Mrs. Becker’s class vs. all.  We won 11-10, but it was a close game.  After that was done, we talked about it on the way back to class.

After that, we had to work on our writing prompt. This time we had to write a persuasive essay to convince Dr. Scheer, our school district’s superintendent, whether we should have school uniforms or not.  Most people said we shouldn’t, but some disagreed.

To have some fun after the boring writing prompt, we did Friday Business.  Last week we didn’t have time so we did two games of Deal or No Deal.  Last week’s winner, Emma, got to go first.  Marcus got to click the cases and we began.  Emma took a deal of $72,000, which is three pieces of licorice.  Jonathan got picked for this week’s game and Mr. Coley got to click the cases.  Jonathan stuck with his case and got $400,000, which is 11 pieces of licorice!

Then we had lunch.  I ate quickly so I could talk to my friends.  When Mr. Eddie released us, we ran off to play basketball again.  This time I was on the Becker team.  We didn’t really keep score though.

After returning to class we had to have the nurse, my mom in this case, measure our height and weight.  While one of us was inside doing that, the rest of us were reading outside.  When everybody was done, we walked back to class.

Upon returning to class, we started talking about Pathfinder.  We got a list of what we need to pack, and we talked about what the kids that would be staying behind do. We talked about clothing and other necessary items.  At the end we answered everybody’s questions.

Finally, the bell rang, we stood up, and I walked out the Room 34 door.  Mr. Coley said, “Bye, everybody,” and I was off.  Once again, I’m Ethan #6 and I was your Roving Reporter today.


There is also a Book Blog on Mr. Coley’s site, a place where students can review and recommend Accelerated Reader and Literature Circle books that they are reading. Students log in to Kidblog.org to write a short post about the book. Kidblog.org is a free site designed especially for students by teachers. Teachers have administrative control over student blogs and student accounts when they set up a classroom site. The site is password protected for the students and only viewable by the teacher and classmates and no student email addresses are required. The site states that no person information from either the teacher or the students is collected and that comment privacy settings block unsolicited comments from outside sources. On Andrea’s blogsite the May 10, 2011 post is on The Secret Garden and a week later there are three student comments posted in response.

A productive use of multimedia that requires students to grapple with new ideas and content is to use podcasting for student presentations. A podcast is a digital recording that can be shared over the Internet, and there are many online resources for creating and sharing podcasts Audio podcasts, usually MP3 files, are easiest to implement in your classroom, even if there is only one computer. Mr. Coley’s classroom website hosts the ColeyCast section, where audio podcasts are posted. We believe that audio podcasting is also composing, because planning and writing must be done to make the audio podcast. At the time of this writing, there are 52 ColeyCasts posted on the classroom website with everything from parts of speech to Amazing America (fascinating facts about the 50 states). You can listen to the podcasts on the website or subscribe to them on iTunes. If you would like to listen to some of the ColeyCasts, please visit the website at http://www.mrcoley.com/coleycast/index.htm.

Like Mrs. Renz, Mr. Coley posts information about himself, the class, and specific information for parents. Mr. Coley also hosts his own blog.

Some Thoughts

Both of our featured teachers will tell you that establishing and maintaining a website is astonishingly challenging, but both teachers will also speak about their passion for teaching and learning. If we want to teach our students how to cope with 21st century technologies, then we need to lead by example. What are your thoughts and experiences with classroom websites or other technologies used in your classroom?

Online Resources

http://sites.google.com/site/educ436537/home/teacher-websites is hosted by Pacific University in Oregon and provides a great deal of information about setting up a website, including examples and discussion on the topic

http://webschoolpro.com/ A free site to make a website with examples posted.

http://www.education.ky.gov/KDE/About%20Schools%20and%20Districts/Kentuckys%20Schools%20and%20Districts/High%20School%20Web%20Sites.htm This website is hosted by the Kentucky Department of Education and shows various high school websites

http://www.ccsd.net/schools/schoolWebsites.php is hosted by Clark County Nevada School District and is a searchable site for teacher/school websites

http://www.sitesforteachers.com/ provides a list of popular websites to link to.

http://newyorkscienceteacher.com/sci/pages/teacher-sites.php Great resources in science for your website

http://www.readwritethink.org/ and companion Thinkfinity.org are sites for literacy and technology.


Podcasting to Teach Content Literacy

Posted by Dana L. Grisham

This week’s post is targeted to teacher educators as well as teachers.

If you have ever taught secondary teacher candidates the required course in content literacy (secondary reading), you are probably aware of what a “hard sell” it can be. Teacher candidates who will be teaching their content area or discipline in middle and high schools tend to be, first and foremost, experts in that content or discipline.  They care deeply about art, music, mathematics, science, social science, world languages and English. They believe that by communicating their love of content to Grade 6-12 students, said students will develop a similar love.

Often, they are doomed to disappointment because they may not understand that teacher passion and expertise does not guarantee student learning in a subject area. Certainly, love for and knowledge about one’s discipline is necessary, but the ability to teach one’s discipline often relies on knowledge of what the student needs in order to learn. This student-centered stance toward teaching is often difficult to convey.

One of the important aspects of disciplinary teaching is the development of vocabulary and academic language.  Zwiers (2008) argues that all secondary teachers, regardless of content area, need to develop their students’ academic language.  For example, when trying to explain why academic language was not necessary in physical education, a teacher candidate in my content literacy course stated, “After all, I’m in kinesiology!” Upon encountering a sardonic look from me as he used the term “kinesiology,” he looked sheepish and muttered “Oh, now I get it.”

At the same time, we are in the midst of such rapid technological change that we must also prepare “tech savvy” teachers who are flexible risk takers ready to challenge their grades 6-12 students. Thus, teachers need to consider the teaching and learning of their content areas, but they are not always aware of the intersections of content learning and literacy processes. And in today’s world of rapidly changing technologies, composing is not wholly a writing task. While teachers and students typically conceptualize composing processes in terms of words on a page, composition also involves the manipulation of new or complex ideas that are also possible with multimedia tools including the audio file known popularly as a podcast.

To assist secondary teacher candidates to recognize the important of literacy processes to teaching their content area and to differentiate instruction for the varied content area teachers represented in the course, I asked them to create audio podcasts according to criteria as noted below.


Sample Podcasting Instructions

Literacy Strategy: Based upon the requirements of your subject area choose a reading/literacy strategy from your textbook. Read two additional published scholarly articles that indicate the usefulness of the strategy for students in your content area.

Write a Script: Your podcast script should sound much like a radio broadcast when recorded and should include the following components:

• Name, the date of your broadcast, content area, and the school level (middle, high school) where you would use the strategy

• Your concern about students being able to read complex text in your subject area; why they may have a problem (use the textbooks in this course to support your concern)

• The textbook from which you took an appropriate strategy to support the students’ reading of text in your content area

• The strategy and your rationale for choosing it (what will it do to support student learning in your content area and how will it address the need you identified)

• Identify sources, authors, dates published and then summarize the additional research that supports the use of the strategy. Connect this back to the reading problem identified

• A brief explanation of how you will introduce this strategy in your own class.

Record the Podcast:  Using an MP3 recording device, record your podcast. The podcast should sound much like a radio broadcast when recorded. Be sure to practice so that it doesn’t seem like you are merely reading the script you have written.

Post your script: After you have emailed the audio file to the Instructor, go to the Blackboard assignment (in the Course Materials section of this class) and post your podcast and written script there.


Secondary teacher candidates submitted some truly wonderful audio podcasts—what I like to call “generative” in the sense that teacher candidates had choice in what they featured in the podcasts, they had general parameters to meet, but could also create their audio podcasts in diverse ways, and, most importantly, they learned new ways to communicate their content! A post-course survey indicated that 90% of the 48 teacher candidates felt positive about the experience and felt they had learned something useful.

I believe that what made the difference between failure and success was the degree of collaboration between participants. They helped each other extensively, from the recording to the posting, to making scripts more interesting, and adding creative touches, such as music and sound effects. Lieberman and Mace (2009) suggest that such collegial action around new learning provides the teacher with the most meaningful professional development in a learning community.

So, 48 audio podcasts on literacy topics are available in my library with permission to use them from my students. For this post, I am making 12 of these available. Remember that there is a written script for each podcast!  I have posted the script of one of the podcasts below, so you can see what a script looks like. But remember! They need to be HEARD to get the full impact.

Beyond the use of audio podcasts to teach the importance of literacy processes to teacher candidates, the use of audio (and video) podcasts can be extended to the K-12 classroom.  Some uses are offered by the secondary teacher candidates themselves (such as podcasts of student performances). A colleague and I used audio podcasts with PPt. slides for authentic responses to literature for special day class students and found students’ vocabulary growth and engagement positively affected.

Where can you post podcasts?  Well, if you have a website or your school does, podcasts can be posted there. You can also use a couple of websites that are freely available. One is Podbean (www.podbean.com) and with a bit of effort, a Google site (as I have used). If you are interested in more on this, just search “podcasting” on Google Scholar. Now that you’ve heard the teacher candidate podcasts, I’d like to throw out the following question:   How can you use audio podcasts in your classroom?


Lieberman, A., & Pointer-Mace, D. (2009). Making Practice Public: Teacher Learning in the 21st Century. Journal of Teacher Education, 0022487109347319. doi: 10.1177/0022487109347319

Zwiers, J. (2008). Building academic language: Essential practices for content classrooms. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


A Sample Podcast Script by John for Mathematics

You have just tuned into John’s Podcast for Thursday, July 31st, 2008. On this podcast, I’ll be talking about a strategy that I would consider using in my future high school mathematics class to teach my students how to read a mathematics textbook.

Now, I understand what you may be thinking. “Why would you want to teach students how to read in a math course?” or “What does reading and language development have to do with numbers?” or “Why did John’s voice suddenly get very annoying?” To address those first two questions, I invite you to think back to your wonderful times in a mathematics course when you were a high-schooler. Do you remember how every new section in the chapter would involve a number of bolded new terms, and they were generally built on previous chapters’ bolded terms? I am a mathematics major, and I can attest that learning these new terms was not a walk in the park. My main concern about my future students is that they will pick up the textbook, read through the examples, follow it like a cookbook when doing the homework, and then close the book. They would either not find a point to learning the new terms, or find it to be difficult to remember. But I suppose there isn’t a great harm in that. I mean, when would you really use the words “numerator” and “denominator” in any other context than mathematics, or perhaps the floweriest of the flowery essays? It would be so much more convenient to say, “You gotta make the bottom numbers the same on each number thingy, then times that number to make it the same number to the top number for both thingies before you can add the top numbers, but you gotta keep the bottom number the same.” Archimedes would roll over and over in his grave hearing this obscenely basic monologue describing adding fractions. I would not want my students to be viewed by society as being ignorant to the long history of mathematics, nor sound so ineloquent as to destroy the meaning of their statements because they are judged by how they say, as opposed to what they say.

So as a preventive measure, I’ve enlisted the help of Martha Rapp Ruddell. Okay, so I just perused her book, but I did see a literacy strategy to help students with the learning of those academic mathematical terms. Ruddell discussed an instructional procedure called CSSR. No, this is not the Soviet Union reuniting for another world tour. CSSR stands for: Context, Structure, Sound, Reference. This is a system of vocabulary research that can help students address the issue of not learning the terms because they don’t understand how to figure out the definition of the new term. It works in 4 steps with 3 of them being conditional steps. When a student encounters a new term, say for example, “polynomials,” the student would read the entire sentence and guess the meaning based on the CONTEXT in which it was used. If it makes sense, then great, they move on. If not, then they move to step 2 where they analyze the STRUCTURE of the actual word. In this case, if the student understands the prefix “poly” as meaning “many,” then they are already halfway towards understanding the word. If it still does not make sense to them while putting that into the context, then they try step 3 and SOUND it out and try to associate that word with other words that they have heard before. Step 4 is the most disruptive, yet surest form of definition, which is to look into a REFERENCE location such as the glossary, dictionary, or other people. I can appreciate this system because it is versatile enough to be used in any subject area that has subject-specific terms, which is, umm…all of them, and this self-directed learning will help with retention as they cycle through step after step of repeating the word to themselves with different perspectives on it.

And to be sure that Ruddell wasn’t just full of it, Jane Harmon asserted in her article, “Constructing word meanings: Strategies and perceptions of four middle school learners,” that the most proficient reader in her study utilized a system similar to this while encountering new terminology. She published her findings in 1998 in the Journal of Literacy Research, Volume 30, Number 4. And specifically, pages 561 through 599. Other supporters of developing in-depth word knowledge, which is promoted by the SS and R parts of CSSR, are E. Sutton Flynt and William G. Brozo. Their article, “Developing Academic Language: Got Words?” was published in the 2008 issue of The Reading Teacher, Volume 61, Number 6, pages 500-502. Both of these articles support what CSSR is trying to accomplish with student readers.

Lastly, how we do educate the students of this system? As Ruddell plainly spells it out, telling the students clearly and drawing a schematic to illustrate the procedure will help cement this system for the visual and auditory learners. After using this system a few times, a quick assessment by discussion would ultimately decide if the system is effective for my students.

And that wraps up this podcast. Thank you for spending time listening to me yap, and good luck to the Future Teachers of America. Team 06!

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