Thursday, April 21, 2011

An Intro to Google Reader

The internet abounds with information for shaping classroom instruction, and the advent of web 2.0 tools like blogs means that people all over the world are now sharing their classroom experiences with others. It can be time-consuming, however, to hop from site to site to review what's out there on a daily basis.

Google Reader can help by bringing valuable content right to you. Here's a Common Craft video offering a brief explanation of the tool:

Reader is similar to a magazine subscription: sign up and you don't have to pick up your copy at the store anymore - it comes to you. The following video shows step-by-step instructions for getting started with Google Reader, from creating a Google account to adding subscriptions.

Note that if you already have a Gmail account, you already have access to Google Reader. It's available via a link at the top of the screen when you are logged in to Gmail, or you can visit the Google Reader site directly and log in using your Gmail username and password.

Once you're signed in to Reader and ready to build your subscription list, consider getting started with these sites:

LWP Tech Blog: Keep track of updates to this blog
News of NWP: Up-to-date info on the National Writing Project
Websites of the Day: Larry Ferlazzo's collection of some of the best online classroom resources

Any time someone adds new content to a site you've subscribed to, that content will come to you automatically. All you have to do is log in to Google Reader to check it out.

In the next post, learn ideas for using Google Reader in the classroom!


Friday, April 8, 2011

#blog4nwp - Laren Hammonds

Laren Hammonds is a language arts teacher at Paul W. Bryant High School in Cottondale, Alabama.

I spent June 2010 at the Longleaf Writing Project Summer Institute, working with an amazing group of ladies from all over west Alabama. It was overwhelming. Every day, I came home with new ideas for writers' notebooks, strategies for writing workshops, and resources for learning more. I placed weekly orders at Amazon for books on writing instruction recommended by my fellow writers, and ended up buying more shelving to accommodate them all. Post-institute, I spent the remaining weeks of the summer break trying to process all I learned and developing lessons to take back to my students.

During the fall semester of this school year, my final class of the day was a group of ninth graders, all of whom were new to me but repeating English 9. The instruction they'd been use to was all about prep for the state graduation exam and writing assessment. They came into my room assuming I'd be throwing grammar workbooks at them and trying to drag them through writing five-paragraph essays, but because of my time in Longleaf everything was different. From day one, they were recording their experiences in writers' notebooks and sharing them with their peers and me. Kids my colleagues had "warned" me about, who'd been labeled as failures, were well-behaved, actively participating, and proud of the work they were doing.

Because of my participation in the Longleaf Writing Project, I was able to transform my instruction and provide my students with something different, engaging, and valuable to them, and I imagine that other NWP teachers have had similar experiences. We can't afford to give up what the National Writing Project has to offer us and our students.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

#blog4nwp - Rhonda Brinyark

Rhonda Brinyark is a language arts teacher at Tuscaloosa County High School in Northport, Alabama.

I had been struggling for too long, trying to figure out a better way of helping my students improve their own writing, attending many workshops, none of which helped much. One day as I was passing out papers, a student called me over to ask me something about her paper. As I approached her, I saw it as she saw it. She'd made a lot of mistakes, and I had been good enough to help her see them. All of them. If I had been she, I wouldn't have known where to start fixing the problems, and I would likely have just given up. I was at my wit's end and needed help in order to better help her and others like her.

It was about this time that I happened upon a flyer for the Longleaf Writing Project. There I found the answers I'd been looking for and that my students needed me to have. I feel so much more confident in helping them to be the best writers they can be. I've even managed to get two teachers I work with to attend subsequent sessions of Longleaf. If we lose this site, none of my other colleagues will be able to gain what I have gained from this experience. Please help us help more students and their teachers.

#blog4nwp - Cita Smith

Cita Smith is a language arts teacher at Tuscaloosa Academy in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

One day I picked up a postcard from my mailbox in the teacher workroom and saw the words Longleaf Writing Project. The word writing jumped out at me, and as I read on, I knew that LWP was for me. I could hardly wait to apply! As a longtime middle school English teacher, I am always seeking new and better ways to teach writing. And, I must admit, I also look for opportunities to develop and expand my own writing.

LWP ignited my passion for teaching and writing in ways I did not expect. Connecting with others who fight many of the same daily classroom challenges was in itself a gift. Hearing ideas from young teachers was enriching. Learning a new approach from someone who teaches five year olds was exciting. Reading the work of educators from all over the country on e-anthology was inspiring. Everything about LWP was uplifting. I brought back many ideas to my classroom and have felt a difference in my approach to teaching. LWP was like a B-12 shot to my teaching career. For this next year, I have been asked to serve as a consultant for the upcoming participants, and I welcome that opportunity. I hope to see other teachers come away from this experience with the same positive feelings that I have.


Recent budget cuts have resulted in the elimination of direct federal funding for the National Writing Project. Knowing the power that NWP can have on classroom instruction, Central Virginia Writing Project teacher-consultant Chad Sansing began #blog4nwp, a blogging campaign to support NWP and to get it funded.

The short-term goal is to collect 1000 blog posts from teachers around the country by April 8. Check out upcoming guest posts here to see what participating in the National Writing Project has meant to Longleaf members, and visit the #blog4nwp archive to hear from teachers at other sites.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Teaching Digital Writing: Beyond Blogs and Wikis

On April 4, Education Week hosted an online chat with Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, NWP Director of Programs and Site Development, and Bud Hunt, a Colorado teacher and instructional technologist. In response to participants' questions, these experts shared their beliefs about how digital resources can help to build the skills our students need in order to be successful communicators in today's world. Here are a few highlights from the chat.

On how digital writing differs from paper-and-pencil composition
Eidman-Aadahl: "I think that the new tools and platforms make it possible for students to publish and participate in the world through their writing and media production at even younger ages. So they can create an identity earlier. Actually, they can play with multiple identities."
Hunt: "I do think in digital writing we expect a more participatory culture. We don't just send it off into the ether. We expect comments, or rewrites, or remixes."

On the appropriate age for introducing digital writing
Hunt: "We make time for both crayons and screens at my house."
Eidman-Aadahl: "New tools are more interactive, less passive" than many television programs geared toward teaching children.

On combining digital and analog methods
Eidman-Aadahl: "...there are ways to work 'offline' that are similar to how we work 'online." When we do that, we help students acquire the mindset that is part of digital writing."

On types of tools to choose
Hunt: "...a few simple and basic tools is a better choice than lots and lots of gadgets and gizmos and websites... There are literally tools for pretty much anything you'd like to try - but I think that Alton Brown's rule on not having unitaskers is a good one to apply to writing tools in the classroom, too."

Specific tools recommended for digital instruction
Diigo - social bookmarking useful in research
Twitter - microblogging platform
Voicethread - used for online conversations
Google Docs - for composition and collaboration
Evernote - a tool for online notetaking

You'll see these tools and other digital resources as the subjects of upcoming blog posts. If you'd like to read the full transcript of the online chat, you can access it here.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Welcome to the LWP Tech Blog!

As we continue to improve the writing instruction that takes place in our classrooms, it's important to take into account the changing nature of writing as a result of developing technology. Our students communicate using a wide variety of mobile devices and have access to web 2.0 tools that allow them to voice their opinions in a variety of forums. As their teachers, we are tasked with helping them learn to be effective, creative writers in both digital and analog environments.

The LWP Tech blog will showcase a variety of technology resources that Longleaf members can use in their classrooms, including reviews of books on digital writing and social networking, ideas for using web resources for writing instruction, and step-by-step instructions for implementing tech tools.

Additionally, this space houses the Writers' Forum. Similar to the National Writing Project's e-Anthology, this forum provides Longleaf writers with a place to post and discuss original compositions and to share classroom experiences throughout the year.

Feel free to post comments if you have any questions about content posted on the blog or if you are interested in learning about a particular tool, resource, or strategy.