Be the change, being a teacher, collaboration, global

With Just One Simple Tool…


“This is nothing special…”

“Others have done this better…”

“Who am I to share…”

How many of us have thought or even spoken sentiments such as these as we have published our ideas, spoken up at staff meetings, or even invited a colleague in.  The imposter syndrome is real and I think many of us live it.

While we can all agree that we should know better, sometimes our own voice shouts louder than those who are thankful for the ideas we share.  This is how I felt writing my new book, Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration.  Who was I to share on global collaboration?  Who was I to tell others how they could integrate technology in a seemingly more meaningful way to empower their students? Who was I to say that I knew something about this, after all, I am not the only one doing just this.  And yet…

We are never the only ones doing something.  There are very few original ideas in the world.  Instead we live in a world that creates off of each other, that shares wildly so that more good can come of it.  Integrating technology tools to create more meaningful experiences seems easy because it is.  We do not need millions of dollars worth of new technology to collaborate with the world, that just makes it easier, instead what we need are just a few simple tools.

So you start with Twitter…

Perhaps it is a classroom account, perhaps it is your own personal one.  You create purposes for the tweets you send.  For example, when a child finishes a book, you search to see if the author is on Twitter and then you send them questions, compliments, perhaps even needle them for  some sequel information.  Imagine the deeper understanding that happens when a child realizes that this author is a human being who has more thoughts they would like to share.  Even if the author doesn’t reply you can still see what they tweet about and discover a whole new dimension to them.  Sometimes helping a child get hooked on a book happens after they have read it and they all of a sudden see the person being the experience they just had.

Or you go to Twitter and you ask for people to become your audience for something your students have created.  Perhaps they are speeches, perhaps they are nonfiction picture books, perhaps you need others to Skype in live to be judges for a poetry slam.  Whatever it is, you ask for others to sign up and they agree.  Or you go to Twitter and you invent a hashtag surrounding a common purpose like Karen Lirenman and her students did when they asked others to take a picture of the view out of their classroom window and share it with the world.  People did and her students learned that our views look quite different.

Perhaps you ask others what the temperature is.  Perhaps you ask others to be your editors.  Perhaps you create a story only told through tweets.  Perhaps you ask for experts to connect with your classroom so that your students can understand something more deeply.  Perhaps you ask for help in solving a challenge or ask for a recommendation or send out challenge questions to others.  Perhaps you ask for a longer partnership to occur between your classrooms because so many other people out there are probably teaching the same curriculum as you are.

Perhaps Twitter is not your tool of choice.  Perhaps it seems like a waste of time, or scary, or perhaps you are not quite sure how to use it.  That is okay too.  This is not a post heralding the power of Twitter, instead this is a post talking about connecting with others.  Because this is what is easy in regard to global collaboration; finding others.  But you won’t know that until you start asking.

So find your tool and find out how you can make what you are already doing more meaningful, more powerful, more engaging for the kids you teach.  How can you give them the power to connect with others so that they can see the relevance of the work they do?  How can you impact the world, but even more importantly, how can the world impact your students?

We speak of creating more empathetic human beings, of the power vested in us as the creators of the future.  We speak of creating deeper learning opportunities but then run out of time when it comes to bringing the world in.  We run into filters and restrictions.  We run into our own nervousness, our own fragility when it comes to taking risks.  But I am here to tell you; embedding global collaboration throughout what you already do is not hard, it may take time, and thought, and planning, but doesn’t all great teaching?  So pick a tool, look at what you already do and ask; how can bringing others in make this better?  What can others bring to this process to make it more meaningful?  Then trust yourself and try.  You will never look back once you do.

I am currently working on a new literacy book.  The book, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum.    So until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.


assessment, authentic learning, being a teacher, collaboration, No grades, student choice, Student dreams, student driven, student voice

Ready to Re-Ignite Your Passion? Join the Passionate Learners Book Club

With the bustle of December and all of the year-end blog posts starting to be released, the end of the year is fast approaching.  But with that end also comes an inevitable beginning; a January that calls for re-invention, renewed commitment, and also the energy to try new things.  I do so adore January for all of its passion and courage.

It is therefore that I am pretty excited to share that the first ever official book club for Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students will kick off on January 10th.

Join this private Facebook group for a casual and fun exploration of the book, find a community of your own that is trying some of the ideas, or have already implemented them into their classrooms.  There will be reflective questions, helpful resources, as well as ideas shared in the hopes to make this January the best one yet.

In the book club we will discuss how to

  • Build a working relationship with your students based on mutual trust, respect, and appreciation.
  • Be attentive to your students’ needs and share ownership of the classroom with them.
  • Break out of the vicious cycle of punishment and reward to control student behaviour.
  • Use innovative and creative lesson plans to get your students to become more engaged and intellectually-invested learners, while still meeting your state standards.
  • Limit homework and abandon traditional grading so that your students can make the most of their learning experiences without unnecessary stress.

So if you are looking for a way to re-ignite your passion, to meet new amazing educators, and find great ideas for how to engage and empower your students, join this book club.  There is no commitment once you join, pop in when you can and share when you want.

When:  January 10th – February 7th

Where:  Online via a private, closed Facebook group

Cost:  Free

Click here to join the Passionate Learners book club on Facebook.  You will receive a notification from Facebook once you have been added to the group and you can then start posting.  Please contact me with any questions.  You can get your print or e-book copy of Passionate Learners here.

being a teacher, collaboration, global, skype, student voice

Mind Your Skype Manners – Tips for Better Skype Calls

For the past many years, my students have Skyped with classrooms around the world as we have tried to let others into our class.  We have shared our love of books through the Global Read Aloud, we have guessed their location through Mystery Skype, and we have asked questions as we did market research for projects we are doing.  Skype is a part of our classroom and I would not want it any other way.  But every year I have to remind my students how to act while Skyping, to mind their Skype manners as we proceed.  Not because they are poorly behaved but because for some, this is the first time they have worked with others in this way and there are things they may not be aware of.

So what follows are our tips for minding your Skype manners.

Make your purpose meaningful and clear.  We not only discuss how we will be Skyping but why and what the expected outcome should be.  This small discussion allows my students to see the potential of the experience they are about to have, rather than just roll with it and assume it will be great.

Have roles or questions prepared.  For Mystery Skype, each of my students has a job that they have picked and are held accountable for, for other Skype calls they have prepared questions in advance.  They write them on notecards and hand them to me and I hand them back when it is time to ask it, at the end we always leave time for extra questions to be asked that have popped up as we listened.

Have a way to introduce yourself.  I usually give students this job and some time to prepare something about our class.  This also serves as a reminder of what the purpose is of the call as they restate that.

Brief the audience on body language.  I have a wide lens camera when we Skype which means a lot of the kids can be seen in the background.  We therefore discuss what our body language should look like and also what is visible on camera.  The students know that if their shoulders are slumped or head is down, even though it is just because they are realizing, it may send a message of disinterest to others.

Mind your tone.  My 7th graders are pretty funny but sometimes their sense of humor does not translate well via Skype.  We therefore always a have a discussion of tone and the words we choose before we Skype.  A gentle reminder is often all that they need to be aware of how they sound and to speak in a way that suits our audience.

Introduce yourself always.  The students always start out by saying their name and then maintaining eye contact throughout.

Stay while listening.  Often the natural reaction of a student is to ask their questions and then sit down, however, we think it is important to stay and listen to the whole answer then thank the speaker.

Give them a task during besides just listening.  I have had students doodle during a class, take notes, or even have a backchannel on Todaysmeet.  This is not just to share our learning but to focus students in.  Even the most exciting Skype call can wear a kid out, so having them do something while they are listening helps them stay engaged and will make the call more meaningful.

Debrief.  After the call we tend to just move on, yet, part of the magic of Skype is discussing what you learned.  After our Mystery Skypes the students debrief in an attempt to get better.  Other calls can be debriefed via conversation, small group aggregation of information and then crowd sourcing information into a Padlet or Google doc.  Do something after the call to acknowledge what just happened rather than just move on.

Finally, don’t be afraid to end a call.  I have only  had to end a call once in our years of Skyping but I am so glad I did.  My students were trying to be funny but were really coming off as rude.  I simply told the other teacher that due to their behavior we had to end the call.  We then discussed as a class what to do better next time.  It was a great lesson for the kids, particularly when the tables were turned a few weeks later and they felt the other class was being rude to them.

If you are looking for great Skype opportunities, join the Skype in the Classroom site or become a member of the Global Read Aloud Facebook page, you can post requests on both.


being a teacher, collaboration, global

Would You Like to Be Our Readers?

As part of our epic non-fiction picture book project, we are looking for students to share these books with.  The books have been created in Google slides so you will not need to print anything or send anything, just read them and fill out a form.

If you would like to receive some of our finished picture books to give feedback on and your teach 4th grade or younger, please fill out the form.  Picture books will be shared at the end of December and you will have until mid-January to provide the feedback.

being a teacher, collaboration, global, Literacy, MIEExpert15, picture books, projects, Reading, skype, student choice

Our Epic Nonfiction Picture Book Project Take 2

For the past few years, my students have written nonfiction picture books for younger audiences around the world.  Last year, I decided to share the lesson plan to serve as inspiration for those who wanted it, and this year I thought I would do the same.  While the foundation is the same, the process has been tweaked a bit for a more meaningful experience for the students.

The goal of the project is rather simple; create a 15 to 25 slide/page nonfiction picture book meant for a 2nd or 3rd grade audience on anything you wish to write about.  Throughout this project we have been able to successfully marry tech tools with writing, as well as use Skype, Padlet, Twitter and other interactive tools.

Why this project?  Because within it we have been able to work on:

  • How to take organized notes in a way that works for them.
  • How to write a paragraph and all of the myriads of lessons that are attached to that.
  • Grammar!  Spelling!  Punctuation!
  • How to find legal images.
  • How to cite sources, including images, books, and websites.
  • How to uncover reliable sources (yes, there is a place for Wikipedia in our research).
  • How to search the internet better.
  • How to conduct market research using Skype to ask 2nd or 3rd graders what they want to read and how they want to read it.
  • How to rewrite information in our own words.
  • How to do design and layout on a page to make it inviting.
  • How to create good questions.
  • Exploring our own interests.
  • How to write assessment rubrics.
  • How to work as a peer mentor group.
  • How to monitor self-engagement.

So a few details about the project:

  • This is a 3-week long project, anchored by a 10 or so minute mini-lessons every day and then work time the rest of class.
  • Mini-lessons have centered around how to take notes ( I showed them 3 different ways), how to research well, how to write paragraphs, how to rewrite information, and anything else we have had to address.
  • Students were able to ask questions to 2nd and 3rd grade classrooms via Skype to do market research, and incorporate that feedback into their project.
  • I am using this blog and Facebook to find classrooms that will assess the final product.  If you would like to be one, please fill out the form at the end of the post.  Those that sign up to give us feedback, fill out this Google form.
  • Students create their books in Google Slides for easy access for all (we check out Chromebooks), as well as easy design and layout.

Major Changes for this year:

The addition of Google Classroom.

This year we have been using Google Classroom to post tools, create the project, as well as use as a gathering point.  This addition has made it much more manageable as far as giving students the information they need, as well as seeing where students are.  If you have not looked into Google Classroom, this is a great project to use it for.

The Peer Mentor Group.

Students are in peer mentor groups as of today.  These groups are meant to be support groups that also help hold each other accountable.  Students gave me three names; a friend they know well, someone they kind of know, and a name for someone they would like to know.  I then made the groups puzzling out their requests.  Groups are between 2 and 4 people are will be used almost every day as an informal check-in.

The shortened timeline.

Last year we did this project for 6 weeks and although the students stayed fully engaged, we shortened it to 3 because we realized we could achieve the same deep engagement with a shortened product.  It also means the students are using their time better because they know every minute counts.

The actual lesson plan:


  • Finished product should be a 15 to 25 page book, created in Google Slides,  that not only includes 4-5 or so “chapters/sub-topics” but also has a glossary, table of contents, works cited, front and back cover, as well as an about the author.
  • Font size of text should be at least 20.
  • Students will use at least one print research material and supplement with reliable internet sources.
  • We will use the website to cite all of our sources which will be done in conjunction with tech tools.  Cross collaboration is a great idea here.
  • We will spend time in class researching, writing, as well as sharing our work.  Students should be able to finish this in class if time is spent wisely.  

Sample:  Will be shown in class and linked to here.

Modifications/Support provided:

  • Some students will be invited to work in small groups with me and/or support teachers.
  • Graphic organizers and templates can be provided for those who need to follow a format.  To access them, please go to this Google presentation and make a copy as needed.

Mini-Lesson Materials:

Every day, we will focus on a mini-lesson meant to bolster the skills and needs of the students.  The following mini-lessons will be taught (in order):

  1. Exploring NF picture books; what are their text features and why are they important?  Template for this discovery can be found here.
  2. What do you want to teach the world?  Narrowing down topic and finding research materials.  Brainstorming research questions to guide their reading.  
  3. Who is your audience?  What do we know about 2nd and 3rd graders? Preparing for our market research Skype call.  Creating a Padlet with what we think we know about 2nd and 3rd graders reading preferences.  An example can be seen here.  Students also meet in their peer mentor groups to share their topics, their questions and what they are excited about.  
  4. Skype call to classrooms, during the call students will take notes for themselves and afterwards we will update our Padlet with what we know now.  Research time reading their books.
  5. Taking 3 column notes in notebook or Google docs.  Example template can be found here.  More information on this type of note-taking can be seen here
  6. Taking notes on notecards and providing graphic organizers for the notes.  (I glued 6 envelopes into Manilla folders and then laminated them many years ago.  These work well for students because they can use them to organize their notes in sub-topics and can write on the folders using dry erase markers.)  Here is what I share with them as an example.
  7. Using Diigo as a way to take notes (refresher from Tech tools).
  8. Unscrambling a paragraph – parts of a paragraph  (example taken from here)
  9. Fill in the main idea and conclusion – found here
  10. Informal to formal paragraph – found here Alternate is writing a sample paragraph
  11. Teach to your partner, checklist can be found here
  12. Table of contents – what does it do, what does it need?
  13. Glossary – what does it do, what does it need?
  14. Self-assessment, peer edit if they want to and review, checklist can be found here
  15. Turn in 

That’s it, pretty much.  Feel free to modify/adapt/share.

If you would like to receive some of our finished picture books to give feedback on and your teach 4th grade or younger, please fill out the form.  Picture books will be shared at the end of December and you will have until mid-January to provide the feedback.


being a teacher, collaboration, student voice

Would You Be Our Audience?

The students have been hard at work figuring out how to be better speakers and they are now ready to show the world.  Next week, my students will be performing Elephant & Piggie stories to their peers while I am recording them. We are looking for K, 1st, or 2nd grade classes to view some of these performances and rate them using a form posted right below the video.  While students appreciate the feedback I give them, they really need a bigger audience than just their classmates and me to grow as real speakers.

If you are interested in perhaps viewing a few, please fill out the form below.  You can view just one or as many as you want, what matters is the feedback!  I will email you further details once the videos go live.  Thank you so much for considering helping out these amazing 7th graders.