Saturday, February 21, 2015

Book blog update

The Bryan Book Blog
Before Christmas break, I was at a crossroads with my students' book reviews. I had some very high quality reviews, and others that still needed some work.

Thanks to advice from Erik of This Kid Reviews Books, Pernille Ripp, and some great educators from the Maryland elementary school chat (#mdeschat) I think I've found the way forward. When we returned from break, I told my students to publish when they personally felt ready. It was interesting to see the self-reflection my students used in deciding whether or not to publish.

Students were excited to see their reviews online and read reviews from my other classes. Plus, having the work published has allowed students to collect comments on their work. On one of the first days when students were able to comment on others' work I immediately had two girls come to me for advice. They noticed one of the reviews was full of capitalization and grammar errors. They wanted to know if it was appropriate to comment about it. We talked about making the comments constructive and helpful. They were able to comment in a way that highlighted the strengths of the review while still expressing concern that the review didn't match the quality of our other published reviews.

This review of The Candymakers is one of
the highest quality examples on our blog
Due to privacy concerns, my students had to set up their blog pages with self-chosen pen names. At first I was a little worried about the online behavior that comes with anonymity. In practice, it has been terrific. When students don't know for sure who the author is, I find that they are looking at the content of the book reviews carefully, rather than just heaping praise on their friends' reviews. I've also noticed students trying new books that may have been outside their comfort zones based on a published review.

One of the most exciting things for my students has been receiving comments from outside. I've shared the book blog address with the #comments4kids tag on Twitter a few times. We've received a variety of comments ranging from praise for a job well done to questions that ask the reviewer to dig deeper. I'd love to collect even more comments, so please visit the Bryan Book Blog and add your own.

Unfortunately, I still have a few students who haven't published a book review yet. Most of these are students who recognize that they need to make improvements before publishing, but they are choosing to work on other projects when we have reading/writing workshop. I will communicate my expectation that every student publish one review to the blog before spring break. I'll be checking in with these students to see how I can support them in revision and editing before that deadline rolls around.

Having my students blog has been terrific! I love seeing how the process is evolving this school year as my students publish and receive feedback. I'm also thinking ahead to some changes in my approach for next school year when I'll be able to get started with blogging from the beginning. And I will keep you updated as I continue to experiment and refine...

Monday, February 16, 2015

Happy Presidents' Day!

A few years ago, I decided that I needed to bring fun back into my classroom. All of the pressure to perform on the test, direct instruction initiatives, and fidelity to adopted curriculum was pushing the joy out of my classroom. I happened to grow a winter beard that year and it needed some trimming by mid-February. Since Presidents' Day was just around the corner, I decided to ditch the moustache in favor of Abraham Lincoln's famous chinstrap. Next thing I knew, I was wearing my top hat and posing for pictures to share with my students. They had a laugh at my expense and it sparked some conversations about U.S. History. A fun tradition for my classroom was born.

Each year since, I've been growing "facial hair of the presidents" to celebrate the big day in February. Chester A. Arthur's friendly sideburns followed Lincoln. Then, last year, a friend sent me an inspiring article about a high school student who took photos as all of the presidents. I knew I had to go for it, but I would keep my pace of one per year. A little calculation made me realize I would be in my seventies by the time I finished. I want to complete this project before retirement, so Rutherford B. Hayes and William Howard Taft ushered in an era of double duty for me.

This year's portraits of James A. Garfield and Theodore Roosevelt probably mark the end of bearded and mustachioed presidents for awhile. We'll all have to wait for next year to see how I do at clean-shaven presidential impersonation.
The series continues:
2016 Ulysses S. Grant
2017 Grover Cleveland
2018 Richard Nixon
2019 George H.W. Bush
2020 Calvin Coolidge