Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Nurturing a Love of Reading

Yeah .. that's me1
I've been playing catchup today on reading the latest postings from my blog subscriptions and discovered a new discussion thread. Several days ago, Jennifer LaGarde, "Library Girl," wrote a compelling post which eloquently shares how she became a book lover and how that wasn't based on any reading instruction or incentive programs, but on librarians and teachers who nurtured her reading and gave her choice. She urged all of us to be those champions for students. (I know I'm way oversimplifying her moving story. Please, please read the original for yourself.) Gwyneth Jones, The Daring Librarian, and others commented on the post. Gwyneth wrote her own amazing post about her history as a passionate reader and challenged us all to do the same. If you haven't read that, please, please go do that now. Gwyneth's posts are always not only insightful and entertaining, but the graphics she creates to tell her stories are a second-to-none experience all on their own. Next, Tamara Cox, the Eliterate Librarian, shared her story, and urged us to read Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer, a book I also found truly transformative in its suggestions for how to build a culture of reading for students.

So, taking up Gwyneth's challenge, here's my story, with three important memories of what made me love reading:

I was blessed as a child because both of my parents read aloud to me from a very early age. I wish I could remember all those books. Several, though, are clearly cemented in my head: A.A. Milne's Now We Are Six, Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verse,  Bemelmans' Madeline books, and Barrie's Peter Pan. To this day, I can still recite parts of each of these - not because I ever tried to memorize them, but because I heard them so often that I couldn't help but remember them. I always loved books and wanted to be a reader myself because my parents brought books alive for me and made me want to read before I could myself.

I was also blessed from early elementary school through my young preteen years to have a children's librarian (I wish I could remember her name) at my local public library - just one block from our house, so I was able to go all by myself from a pretty early age - who was willing to spend endless time walking around with me during every visit suggesting books. Each time I went, I left with a huge stack of books. I usually discarded one or two of them, but read all the rest, and she made it clear that it was okay not to continue with books that didn't speak to me. One of my favorite discoveries during those visits was the Dr. Doolittle series. While, other than the Landmark biography series, I have always been much more of a fiction person than nonfiction reader, she also shared a book with me that lead to a lifelong hobby - Dolls to Make for Fun and Profit by Edith Flack Ackley. I was so taken with the book that my mother agreed to buy me my own copy, which I still own. After I made a number of dolls from the patterns in the book, the librarian even talked me into to lending them to the library to display in the entry hall exhibit case for a few weeks. I was so proud to have my creations on exhibit in the library! While I didn't think about becoming a librarian until years later, those days at my local public library definitely made me a lover of not just books but of libraries.

And, finally, I was blessed with a third grade teacher, Mrs. Schwartzman, who made a ritual of reading aloud to us. I couldn't wait each day to hear Mr. Popper's Penguins and several of the Mary Poppins books read with incredible expression. To this day, I love being read to. I guess that's why I'm an audiobook fan. I think we stop reading aloud to children way too early. Sadly, I don't get to read aloud to high school students, but I know when I was a middle school librarian that the students really enjoyed lunchtime read alouds.

As Jennifer, Gwyneth, and Tamara all shared, my love of reading never had anything to do with reading instruction or incentives. It did have a lot to do with being read aloud to, never ever being told that there was any book I shouldn't/couldn't read, and a lot of indulgence by my parents and librarians in helping me find the right books for me.

As I write, a lot more memories are coming back, and I could probably go on forever with one after another, but I'll share just one more: I was a true goody-two-shoes in school and almost never got in trouble. One day, though, I remember my teacher getting surprisingly angry with me that I had not heard or responded to some direction she gave me. I really hadn't heard her, because I was completely absorbed in the book I was reading. I was living in the world of the book, not the classroom. I also recall, over and over again, "surfacing" from a book and grieving for losing that world I had just inhabited. I even grieved at having to "give up" some really depressing or scary experiences of characters in those book worlds to return to my much more comfortable and safe real world. All those worlds I lived in while I was reading played a huge role enabling me to understand the world outside my own and develop empathy for people different from me.

My wish for all the other teachers, librarians, and parents out there is that you to do everything you can to help your students lose themselves in books. It can happen if you guide them to find books that speak to them. It was one of the greatest gifts of my youth and one every child deserves. Let's all do all we can to give our students that gift.

So ... what's your story?

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Google for Education Orange County Summit Rocked!

I spent the last weekend (August 1 and 2) at the EdTechTeam Google for Education Summit in Orange County. What an empowering weekend it was! The EdtechTeam has done an amazing job of bringing together presenters and attendees who are passionate about students and education and want to learn from each other.

My experience started some weeks before the summit when I was invited to submit proposals to present and then received the go ahead to do the two sessions I proposed, one on "Google Forms: You Can't Live Without Them!" and the other on "Become a Google Images Ninja." I don't know why I thought putting these two sessions together would be easy, since preparing for a presentation never is for me. Instead - and I really should know this by now - preparing a session for me means taking a topic or skill I feel savvy about, throwing me back to feeling like a complete beginner, and then, after a considerable amount of hard work and pretty big dose of stress, finally getting ready. Here's a Google Drawing I just made of how the timelines works for me:

Here's a link to a larger version you can more easily read, since I can see that fitting it in here makes the type too small. By the way, Google Drawings is one of the cool tools I shared during the Images session.

I am not sure whether my experience as a presenter is typical or not; I do know that it's the norm for me. The good news is that I always learn so much from the process, and I feel like it was all worthwhile once I'm done.

My Sessions

Here's a short summary of my own two sessions:

The Google Forms session was intended to bring people brand new up to speed on Forms and to inspire everyone - new or not so new - with new ideas of how to take advantage of them. By me, Forms, along with Google Docs, are the cornerstone of a paperless classroom. I shared examples of how they can capture and share any type of information, crowd-source ideas, and be used for voting, flipped instruction, differentiated instruction with the "go to page based on answer" option, quizzes and assessments, validating answers, grading rubrics, exporting data to Google maps, and more.

And, did you know that you can send notifications, not just to yourself, but to the form submitters when they submit a form, using the Form Notifications add-on? Did you know you can automatically create a document that uses the input data and is shared with the form submitter? (Use the Form Publisher add-on.) And, you can even use the Flubaroo spreadsheet add-on to automatically grade quizzes. I really love Forms! The slides weren't intended to be self-explanatory, so please contact me with any questions about my slides or Forms in general.

My Forms slides:

For my "Become a Google Images Ninja!" session, I pulled together all the different ways you can find, enhance, and create images using Google tools. I also included a short "101" on copyright, fair use, public domain, and Creative Commons. I am a huge fan and supporter of Creative Commons to build a more creative world, and I welcomed the opportunity to share this message and the importance both of sharing and respecting intellectual property with my colleagues attending the session. Here I am in the Creative Commons T-shirt:

Here are the slides from that session. Be sure to contact me for more information about these as well:

I also did a quick Slam session on why I love for creating URL shortcuts to share:


There were way too many great takeaways to list here, and they include the wonderful people I met and new and renewed connections I made as much as any of the session content. I still have a lot of processing to do, and will also be going through the materials from some of the sessions I wasn't able to attend.

Here are just a handful of the ideas and new knowledge from sessions I can now share with my colleagues at my school:

Google Classroom

I attended two sessions that focused on Google Classroom. One was by Laura White, (@thinkteachtech) all the way from Bramley, England who shared wonderful templates she uses for student project based learning at her school. The templates take students through the entire cycle from establishing their mission, timelines, research, presentations, to end-of-cycle self-reflections. Thanks to this virtual environment, her students, who frequently travel during school breaks, can work on their group projects and get feedback from anywhere without having to meet live. She also suggested setting up small sub-Classrooms for each group to give them a more comfortable environment for sharing with each other. I can definitely take these templates and ideas back to my own teachers.

The second Classroom session I attended was with Katie Stephens. Katie brought us up to speed on all the new enhancements to Classroom since its launch last year. I got lots of practical tips on adding additional teachers to classes, drafting assignments for later publishing, archiving classes, and more. Like Laura, Katie suggested creating small Classroom subgroups for group work and differentiated instruction. I really liked her idea of creating a Classroom for the teachers at the school to use for collaboration.

Group Challenges 

James Sanders was the opening keynote speaker and his topic was "Resume of Failure." He challenged us to try new ideas, not be afraid of failure, and persevere from failure to ultimate success. This is a message we need to remember both for ourselves and our students. I was inspired by his stories and enthusiasm.

It is always difficult to decide between concurrent sessions to attend at a summit or conference like this, but I kept being drawn to James' sessions. The first one introduced me to BreakoutEdu, a learning game tool he has developed that is now in beta testing. It is designed for about 12 participants. Our group was presented with a story, a box with four locks on it, and a classroom in which clues were hidden around the room. Our mission was to work together and find and use the clues to open the box. The game could be adapted to both student groups and professional development to hone problem-solving and team-building skills. Our group worked well together, and we accomplished our mission in the allotted time! We were very proud. :-)
A video posted by Natalie Priester (@npriester) on
Thanks for the video, Natalie!

I would like to get one of the kits for my school and try it out with clubs, small class groups, and teachers, then challenge them to become the creators of adventures for others.

Leveling up Chrome

Dan Bennett is an amazing guru on all things Google tools. I was able to attend one of his sessions on "Google Toolbox: Level up Your Chrome" and was sorry that I couldn't get to more. I came away with all sorts of tips to help me be more efficient using Chrome, both for myself and for what I share with students and teachers. Thank you, Dan!

More Inspiration

The keynotes on Saturday were also inspirational. Molly Schroeder started the day with the upbeat message to "live in beta," try something new and then iterate, and to go for the moonshot. And Tracy Purdy sent us away with a challenge to take advantage of the tools available today to go beyond the four walls of our classrooms, giving our students access to instant knowledge, global connectivity, and experiential adventures that will help them better understand the world and make a difference in it.

I think it's safe to say that we all left motivated to take up those challenges. We also left wanting to return for another summit of inspiration. I know I'll be back to another one soon! And, yes, I will fret and stress while I prepare my own presentations, but afterwards I'll be so glad I did. :-)

Meeting up with some teacher librarian friends at the summit:

(Those of you who know me know that I am a big Twitter fan. I included Twitter links for the people I mentioned above. They are all great people to follow if you aren't already.)