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Experiential Learning in Algebra I: The QR Code Experiment

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The librarian went to Algebra I class today, and I learned so much!  Not only am I now solid on identifying inequalities on the coordinate plane, but I also understand much more about the importance of technology tools applied in authentic learning experiences.

As the campus Library Media Specialist, I am extremely lucky to have such powerful professional and personal relationships with faculty across all content areas.  Technology integration is scary and make-me-want-to-pull-my-hair-out frustrating at times.  Our professional relationships are an integral lifeline when seeking to innovate any instructional context–but especially when integrating technology.

Our principal began the year with three very specific instructional expectations for our campus:

1)  Engage students in learning.

2)  Seek to integrate technology in instruction.

3)  Design lessons using the VESTED format (a sheltered instructional model developed by the Kolak Group)

As a campus and as individual teams we’ve faced many obstacles to meeting these goals–especially with technology integration.  These barriers seem to stem–ironically– from technology, in particular our infrastructure’s capacity to support wireless connectivity for 30+ devices in a classroom and our very tightly-woven internet filtering software.  When faced with these barriers, many teachers understandably quit.  Those who are adaptive and responsive to these barriers, often find the support and creative solutions they need to innovate instruction through professional relationships and collaboration.

One such collaboration that has taught me tremendously has been with our Math Department Chair and Coach.  Wendi and I share a platform of trust, which is paramount in any professional relationship.  She and I also share like-mindedness when it comes to engaging students in learning.  We have different levels of comfort and experience with technology integration, which allows for a dynamic relationship.  I know next to nothing about math and instructional methods for teaching math to teenagers;  she feels that she knows next to nothing about using technology when teaching math to teenagers–our collaboration is founded on reciprocal teaching and learning from one another as colleagues.

Wendi’s spark of innovation appeared in one of her own children’s Language Arts assignments that came home one day.  The teacher had used QR codes to teach students about synonyms and antonyms.  Wendi was so impressed with the basic premise of the assignment and her experience as a parent supporting her young learner through the assignment, that she made immediate connections for adapting it for an upcoming lesson with her Algebra I team.

She showed me the assignment–a simple table with 9 QR codes that linked to a website students used to respond to the prompt. We started by talking about her content goals for her Algebra I studnets first.

Whenever I collaborate with teachers on integrating technology with learning, I ALWAYS start with the content and expected learning outcomes.  Integrating technology is not about finding ways to use iPads or QR codes in the classroom, but rather integrating technology is about identifying what tool best supports students’ learning in a given context.  (p.s., sometimes the solution has nothing to do with technology!)

Wendi’s goal for her students:  Identify inequalities on coordinate planes.

How would students demonstrate this skill to her?  By correctly identifying a shaded graph with it’s symbol.

I heartily agreed that QR codes could be an effective tool to support students with these goals.

Wendi worked over a weekend to collect images of shaded graphs, and then we sat together to put the assignment together, which involved troubleshooting certain technological barriers.

Barrier 1:  QR codes needed to link to images; however, Google Images as well as photo hosting sites such as Flickr and Tumblr  are blocked by our filter.  We needed a place to house the photos online that students could access through our network.

Solution:  We created a folder in Google Drive, uploaded the images to the folder, changed the sharing permissions for the entire folder so that anyone within the district’s Google domain could access the link, and then used the shared links for the images to create QR codes.

Creating the assignment once we had all the images took about 20 minutes.  I then showed Wendi how she could make a copy of the assignment’s Google Doc to use as a template for future assignments, saving her time in the future with formatting.

assignment

Wendi shared the assignment through Google Drive with her Algebra I team and scheduled the cart of iPads for each teacher.

We were excited to see how students and teachers responded to the activity.

The day of the assignment, Wendi and one of her teachers came to me with our next unforeseen barrier.

Barrier 2:  When using the QR scanner on the iPad with the devices connected to the student wi-fi network, the links were blocked–even though they linked to the district’s own Google Drive (exasperated sigh).  Wendi and her teacher could have given up then and there.  We had less than 20 minutes to find a solution.

One of the most important traits of a 21st Century teacher and learner is the ability to adapt and problem solve.

Solution:  …I may have found a loophole to the wi-fi issue, which I cannot entirely disclose…let’s just say I applied a little creative compliance to find a network solution…

I asked the first teacher to try the activity with students if I could stay and help support her and her students.  That way I could be available to trouble shoot anymore barriers or obstacles that may arise.  Since we were using the district’s Google Drive domain, it was necessary for one student to log in to Google Drive the first time they scanned a code, which they adapted to very easily.

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The QR activity followed a quick introduction, which drew upon students’ prior knowledge of inequality symbols.  The teacher displayed a visual with four coordinate graphs and their corresponding symbol and asked students to talk to their partner about what they noticed.

As I walked through rows of students observing, I heard responses such as “if you notice where the lines are located …” and “in general, when the shaded area is beneath the line…” By inviting students to note patterns first, the teacher placed the learning experience in  the hands of students rather than delivering content knowledge.  What I really appreciated about this was how natural it came to students.  You could tell by their willingness and openness to share their thinking out loud that this type of discourse was a regular part of their classroom experience.

She then asked them what they noticed, “Why are these two lines dashed and these two solid?”  By utilizing  higher-level questions to guide them to justify their responses, the teacher drew upon students’ ability to think metacognitively.  Learning was happening at higher levels  before technology was even introduced.

graph

Students then received directions for the QR activity, and I walked them through scanning and identifying the first coordinate graph to ensure all devices were working appropriately and students felt successful using the iPads as a learning device.

The teacher and I walked around, actively supporting students if they had any issues with the QR code or device, and observing students’ conversations with their partners as they scanned and worked together to determine the correct symbol.  The initial visual remained on the board for students to use as a key.

All students were engaged in the activity as academic discourse flowed throughout the room.  As partners completed the assignment, I reminded them to check to make sure they signed out of Google Drive on the devices and cleared the scanning history in the QR reader app.  I chatted informally with groups of students about their reactions to the assignment.  All but one student reported that they felt they understood more about inequalities on coordinate planes after using the iPads than if we had provided the images of the graphs on the paper.  The one student who didn’t feel this way said that the experience would have been the same for her without the iPads.  All students reported that they felt confident in identifying the correct symbol for an inequality and commented on how fun class was that day.

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Learning did not stop when the devices were dark. Even when the activity was over,  I heard pairs talking about the graphs they had discussed.  One pair in particular was pointing to different QR codes, recalling the differences and similarities between the graphs they linked to and the inequality symbol they recorded.  Even though the visual was no longer in front of them on the screen, it was painted on their mind because of their experience with the learning task.  When looking at a QR code, they still saw the graph it represented.

Without the collaboration of the team, my relationship with Wendi, the Department Chair, and the adaptability and resiliency of the classroom teacher, this lesson may have never been actualized.

How can we ensure that teachers have the collaborative relationships and support they need in order to experiment with new technologies and innovate learning for their students?

Reel Reads for Real Readers: We are all MAD here…

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This month’s display in the library is inspired by the Cheshire Cat and zany mix of characters in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland .  

We’re all mad here.

The weeks leading up to and following Spring Break often feel like madness.  But, in the library, we’re mad about books, especially books with mind-bending adventures!

Here are a few books featured this month where readers can expect a wacky, adrenaline packed, adventure with unexpected twists and turns.  Many genres are represented in this month’s display as adventures.

Reel Reads for Real Readers: Under the Never Sky Trilogy

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  “She sank to her knees and lifted her head. She had become so accustomed to the rippling blue tides closing her in, pressing down on her, but this sky was open . . . this night was infinite.
She felt like she might fall upward forever, drifting into space. Floating across the stars. Sable had spoken of embers scattered across the roof of the universe. It was a good description.”

I find myself getting out of bed a little more quickly, leaving my house sooner, and taking the longer route to work in the mornings to get in just a few more minutes with my good friends Perry, Aria, and their merry band of misfits.  I picked up Veronica Rossi’s first installment in the trilogy, Under the Never Sky,  a little late in the game about a month ago.  I have a tendency to hold off on a trilogy when I know that the last installment is releasing soon–I loathe the wait in between installments.

With a little less than an hour to go until the end of the series, I’m feeling that pang of nostalgia already, knowing that I’ll soon be saying farewell to the ether-torn world and those who are perpetually seeking “the still blue” and all the freedom to love and live that it promises.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A0TnH3GEieE

The Nonfiction Reading Experience: Balancing Stance with Reader Response

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heart of nonfiction

“When we read nonfiction we read with a blend of the two stances:  we can learn information from reading nonfiction but we can also pay attention to our personal response as well as our aesthetic experience” (Heard, 2013).

In Finding the Heart of Nonfiction, Georgia Heard draws upon Louise Rosenblatt’s, The Reader, the Text, the Poem:  The Transactional Theory of the Literary Work to demonstrate the value of supporting students’ nonfiction reading experiences.  Even when we approach an informational text, we have an aesthetic response as readers.  We think about the facts, data, information, stories, etc that move us, connect with us, confuse or enrage us, through a personal and emotional lense as we grapple with the information, internalizing author’s message and purpose.

As I thought more about how to continue to support our English I Pre-AP students’ individual journeys with their nonfiction titles, I knew that in to elicit the type of reflective and purposeful written response we hoped to achieve in the nonfiction book review, we needed to tap into that personal reader response during the course of students’ reading.

After examining and deconstructing real-world book reviews, I sent the students back to their classrooms with five reader response prompts for their teacher to integrate, one each week over the next five weeks.  The teacher did not set a certain schedule or number of pages students were expected to accomplish on a pre-determined timetable, but rather, she chose to invite their experiences back into the classroom through written reader response.  My goal in crafting these response times was to literally help nudge students along the continuum of reading stances from aesthetic (personal/ emotional)to efferent (informational/ analytic).

Nonfiction Reader Response Prompts

Response #1-Tap-in to Prior Knowledge

Before I started reading _____________, I thought/ wondered/ experienced/ understood……

 Now I think……

Response #2-Thinking More Deeply

Lift one line* out of the book that “sticks with you” for any reason at all.

  • Write that line down at the top of your paper.

  • Write in response to that line.

  • What does it make you think of?

  • What questions does it raise?

Response #3–Taking Note of Genre

response #3

Response #4–Considering Purpose

  • What does the author do that makes the book believable (or not)? 
  • What does the author do that makes him or herself a credible source (or not)?
  • Is there anything the author could do to improve credibility?

Response #5–Synthesizing

What moments, stories, examples, etc. are the most memorable for you? Why?

How would you sum up—in one to two sentences—the message of this book?

Why should someone read this book?  Who in particular should read this book?

My intention for these prompts was to not only help students think reflectively about their reading experience as they engaged in both stances, but also to support their understanding of nonfiction structures, features, and purposes.

Keeping the end in mind, I also anticipated that those students who really put effort into these entries would in essence have a draft of their book review before we even talked about sitting down to draft.
*A quick note about giving students prompts to respond to their independent reading books–I feel like this is a fine-line to walk in the classroom.  On one hand, reader response prompts provide students–especially “non-readers”– with thinking models for their reading experiences.  Prompts allow you to hone-in on a specific skill, term, strategy, or text feature with all students when they are not reading a collective text.  On the other hand,  I believe that students should freely and openly respond to the texts that they read.  In general, I often posed a prompt for students with the caveat that they could respond however they needed to that day.
Where do you stand on teacher-directed reading responses?  How do you walk the fine-line between scaffolded support and spontaneous transaction?

Writing as Readers–The Nonfiction Book Review

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The Traditional Book Report Vs. Book Review

bookreview

After a very successful day with students introducing them to nonfiction titles the stage was set.

Students were on their way to making their nonfiction book selections following the book speed-dating activity that I facilitated in the library.

The next question was, how can students demonstrate their experience and reactions to the book for their teacher and their classmates in a way that is both authentic and academic? The teacher who was collaborating with me on this adventure had been using a reading log as the primary tool for students to track and report their reading goals.

She was dissatisfied with the reading log as an assessment for a number of reasons:

1)  It was easy to fake.

2)  Not all books were created equal–in length.  One 200 page book might be much more complex than a 400 page book.  How were tracking page numbers an accurate reflection of the student’s reading experience?

3)  The log did little to capture those magical moments that happen between a reader and the text.  In fact, it did nothing.

4) The reading log didn’t feel “on-grade level” for the English I pre-AP teacher who strives to ensure that her assessments contained an appropriate amount of rigor.

To these I added a few of my own qualms after having used the reading log religiously for six years with my own classes:

1)  The log imposed an artificial reading goal on students–a number of pages to be read.

2)  It did nothing to foster and inspire a reading community.

3)  I hated assigning grades to quantitative reading goals that I had imposed upon students.

It was decided; the reading log would be set aside for the purpose of our nonfiction experiment (*190 English I students collectively cheer, “hoorah!”).

When I brought up the idea of writing reviews, I could tell that the teacher had some hesitation.  I sensed that, in her experience,  reviews and reports brought back a certain amount of reading sentimentality. Sure, it was nice to hear how students felt about a book–if they liked it and so on– but like many of us my colleague was not interested in reading her students’ summaries of the books they had read.  How could a simple book review adequately demonstrate their experience as readers?

How do we balance reader response and analytic writing?

We went to the standards to see if we could find a student expectation that captured the level of thinking as readers and writers we wanted to see in students.  Sure enough, there it was:

Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills

15 (C)  write an interpretative response to an expository or a literary text (e.g., essay or review) that:

(i)  extends beyond a summary and literal analysis;

(ii)  addresses the writing skills for an analytical essay and provides evidence from the text using embedded quotations; and

(iii)  analyzes the aesthetic effects of an author’s use of stylistic or rhetorical devices

As a consummate consumer of reviews from blogs, websites, and journals, I’ve read wonderful reviews from passionate readers that balance authentic reading response and critical analysis.

Students came back to the library so that we could read and deconstruct these real-world reviews in order to craft them ourselves.

How do readers share with one another?

nonfictionbookreview

After a brief discussion on the difference between a book report and book review, we began by simply reading nonfiction book reviews posted on websites like Goodreads and Amazon.  To engage them in the task of deconstructing a book review, I posed a very simple question to students:  What sticks with you?

When we use mentor texts for writing, we begin by inviting students to identify the patterns in the text.  As we identified something new in the review, I color-coded details.  With my guidance, students created an anchor chart that identified four key concepts that they needed to understand about writing nonfiction reviews.

nonfiction anchor chart

Our (not so pretty) anchor chart uses the mentor texts we analyzed and four key concepts to remember that coordinated with our color-coding.  Not only did students have a visual reminder in their classroom of the writing task they were preparing for, but the teacher had a ready-made rubric to assess students’ writing.

Students would now go forth and read their books…but wait, what was going to happen between the this eye-opening day in the library and when they came back to write the reviews?

How could we intentionally scaffold and support students’ responses and reactions to their selected books in order to prepare them to write reflectively and critically?

Reel Reads for Real Readers: YAK Fest ’14 presents Andrew Smith

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64664-reelreading2Throughout the month of January, I’ll be sharing book trailers highlighting the fantastic line-up of authors that will be at this year’s YAK Fest (Young Adult Keller Book Festival) on January 25th at Keller Central High School in Keller, TX.  This will be our third YAK Fest thanks to a generous donation from the Hudson Foundation, which allows us to bring together YA authors and readers for free to attendees!

Visit our Facebook page or website for more info on the event and follow us on Twitter @YAK_Fest #yak14!

I’m thrilled to meet every author coming to YAK, but when I saw that Andrew Smith was in the line-up I literally squealed and ran to see which of his books were on the shelf so I could find readers for them asap!

Andrew Smith’s Marbury Lens and its sequel Passenger are quite the hot commodity thanks in part to an adrenaline-packed, thrilling book trailer.

Make sure you order extra copies for your classroom or library–they’ll be needed after you share this trailer!

winger

This year, Smith has received a lot of acclaim for Winger from reviewers, librarians, and YA fanatics.

Smart, wickedly funny…In a magnificently frenetic first-person narration that includes clever short comics, charts and diagrams…Smith deftly builds characters—readers will suddenly realize they’ve effortlessly fallen in love with them—and he laces meaning and poignantly real dialogue into uproariously funny scatological and hormonally charged humor, somehow creating a balance between the two that seems to intensify both extremes. Bawdily comic but ultimately devastating, this is unforgettable.”

(Kirkus Reviews, starred review)

Thanks to a terrific librarian-friend,  his next novel, Grasshopper Jungle, arrived today for me to read before I see him in a few weeks!  (*Fangirl squeak of excitement*)

Come meet Andrew Smith on January 25th at YAK Fest ’14!

 

 

Reel Reads for Real Readers

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Thanks to ice-mageddon 2013, I was able to catch up on a sackful of books that I’ve been eager to read. One book in particular captured my rapt attention for an entire evening, enchanting me with a love story I only thought I knew. Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson is a gentle, yet fierce retelling of Peter Pan. Narrated by none other thank Tinker Bell herself, the story takes us into the wildest and most compassionate places of Tiger Lily’s heart.

tigerlily

“Sometimes love means not being able to bear seeing the one you love the way they are, when they’re not what you hoped for them.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mZjowrqd3XQ

The Book Pass Gets a Nonfiction Face Lift

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Setting the Stage

bookpass_7When a veteran English teacher came to me to share her thoughts and seek inspiration on getting her students excited about nonfiction, my heart went pitter-patter.  Over the last decade at my campus, I’ve seen a tremendous shift to emphasizing recreational reading and seeing our students as readers.  More teachers bring their classes to the library to be introduced to new books, maintain a classroom library, talk to their students about their reading habits, and provide students with the time and space to read in class–but the primary recipient of all of this love has been fiction.  

In my graduate library courses, we were encouraged to read all genres widely.  When we reached the nonfiction module, I sighed and told myself I’d get through it.  I wasn’t that kind of reader, I thought.  But, then I was introduced to books like The Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksBomb: The Race to Build and Steal the World’s Deadliest Weapon, and How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous and realized that I was, in fact, a nonfiction reader!  Suddenly, I remembered such favorites from my reading life as Devil in the White CityDiary of Anne Frank, and An Unfinished LifeA Memoir by Lillian Hellman.

When and why had these reading experiences taken backseat to their fiction counterparts?

I was excited to embark on an journey with this teacher’s freshman English students that would allow me to promote nonfiction and learn more about the nonfiction reading habits of teens all while re-kindling my own flame for nonfiction reads

To set the stage, we decided to adapt a strategy that is a staple in the library and in classrooms:  the book pass.

I first found the book pass as a budding Reading Specialist while reading Janet Allen’s Yellow Brick Roads:  Shared and Guided Paths to Independent Reading.  When cultivating reading lives of students–especially teen readers–choice is paramount.

The Book Pass quickly (and messily) allows students to explore multiple titles, recording their thoughts, observations, and wonderings, and then passing them along.  It’s safe because students don’t have to commit to anything they don’t like.   It’s effective because out of 200 books that are scattered around 8 or more tables, each student is bound to find something that he or she can “date.” 

Book passes in our classes served to get students looking at a variety of books, making their own judgments on the interest and readability of the books, and finding books they were willing to seek out…(Allen, 2000, p. 103)

When I entered the library and brought my book pass with me, I made a few adaptations here and there.  These days, I set the activity up like a speed-dating experience.  We talk about how dating a book is like dating a person–you judge it by the outside, but have to remember to listen to what it has to say before you make up your mind about it.  I find that teens latch on to this idea of reading relationships. 

My book passes have also been organized by theme, topic, or genre–depending on the class and teacher’s needs.

While preparing for my first nonfiction speed-date activity, I had to ask myself, how do teens select nonfiction books?  Probably the same way most of us do–by topic.  So, I came up with 8 broad topics to create tables.  

bookpass_5bookpass_3bookpass_4

Sports

Science

Beating the Odds

Youth in Conflict

Technology

Space

Real-Life Crime

Game-Changers

bookpass_1

Now, the nonfiction speed date was much more difficult for me to facilitate because the nonfiction section is the weakest part of my collection.  It was an eye-opening experience to see the gaps in selection.  And, due to limited availability, I had to break my own cardinal rule and NOT allow students to check out the books they previewed right then and there like I do with my fiction book passes.  We had wait lists dozens deep for books like The Blind Side and Steve Jobs.

Most students walked away with several books on their to-read lists and many options for their nonfiction reading assignment.

The next step was to begin to support their actual reading experiences so that they could share their books through book reviews.

In the next post, Real-World Readers Write Reviews, I’ll share a process that I use for any type of writing that allows students to deconstruct a mentor text-in this case a nonfiction book review.  Stay tuned!

Inquiry–Dare to question and embrace the search!

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Inquiry involves a process of problem-posing and problem-solving as learners develop a critical lens on the word and the world in order to take action for social change  (Short, 2012)

Inquiry is the driving force in a writing workshop classroom.  Students and teachers, alike, use questions and questioning strategies to become active learners and participants in the community.  Whether we are writers, readers, researchers, digital citizens, the impetus of our collective and individual learning is curiosity.

When was the last time your students were truly curious?  If they are like mine, my students tell me that they stopped feeling curious about what they learn in upper elementary school as they moved into content specific classrooms and faced looming standardized tests.  Young children learn about the world around them by asking questions, being curious, and exploring.

Many of us can quickly paint a picture of how inquiry works in the context of research.  I-Search projects and social action research have become more and more prevalent.  But,  inquiry doesn’t just live in the context of research; its pulse frames all learning in the workshop community.

Looking to rekindle that curious spirit?  Try these steps to tap into that natural curiosity in relation to your beliefs about student writing.  Then, go one step further and try this strategy with your students!

“Maybe you’re naturally curious, a holdover from childhood when you were always asking, “Why?”  Or maybe your curiosity paled as you got older, and you forgot that being curious is the best reason for wanting to learn things.  Whatever condition it’s in, your curiosity must be the driving force…” (Ballenger, 2009, p. 27)

Forming a Burning Question

What are your beliefs about student writing?

What absolutes, values, norms, and principles do you hold near and dear when it comes to facilitating a writing community with your students?  I invite you to spend a few moments writing about what you believe, in whatever format works best for you.

How do you know this to be true?

Take a couple of minutes thinking about how you have come to hold those beliefs.  Are there stories or students from your own classrooms that have led you to forming these beliefs?  Do you have professional mentors, authors, and teachers who have guided you in understanding these beliefs?  What research, facts, theories, etc all demonstrate your belief to be true?

So what do I wonder?  

Give yourself five, ten, even fifteen minutes to just brainstorm questions.  What do you wonder about your students as writers or the writing community you share with them? Write as many questions as you can think of.

Share your questions with a peer or even your students.  Ask them to show you which questions they feel most curious about.  Do they have any questions they could add to the list to expand or narrow your questions?

Now what?  

Take a minute to consider the questions your peers marked as most interesting and any new questions they might have added.  Do you see a pattern?  Is there a question that seems to stand out more in your mind?  Is it possible to write a new question that encompasses these questions?

What happens now that you’ve formed your own burning question?  Is there a resource or strategy that you might integrate into your classroom to strengthen the writing community?  Can you find a network of professionals and teachers to reach out to in order to further explore your question?  What ways could you engage your students in exploring the question…or better yet, in creating their own questions.

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Student uses Ballenger’s strategy as they move from “exploring” to “questioning” in the inquiry cycle.

This strategy lends itself well to research, of course.  But, what I found is that this strategy became much, much more for our community than just a springboard into research.  We began to utilize the same process to respond to what we read, respond to one another’s writing, and even develop new norms, policies, and community “rules.”  When our we adopted curious minds and allowed ourselves the freedom to “wonder,”  that’s when magic started.

What adaptations and applications can you imagine for this strategy?  What is your burning question?  How could you use this process to engage your campus or department in considering their individual and collective beliefs in order to transform instruction?

(Adapted from Bruce Ballenger (2009) “Finding the Questions” and “Finding the Focusing Questions” The Curious Researcher)

nstwpThis post accompanies the presentation Writing Teachers (Re)Inventing Literacy Instruction by Following the North Star for NCTE 2013 in Boston, MA–Please message me for more information regarding this session or visit the North Star of Texas Writing Project’s Facebook page.

Book Trailer Thursday: Shatter Me

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Fans of Hunger Games, Divergent, and Matched might find a new heroine to emulate.  Meet Juliette, a lonely, powerful, lethal young woman who is desperate to touch not be touched.

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

available at The Library @ the Ridge!